While there’s a lot we still don’t know about the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge, one thing we can say for certain is that the Gorge will look different afterwards. Fires always bring change - both the immediate kind and the kind that will take place over many many years .
This raises the question for us as parents: How we talk about this change with our kids?
First, it's helpful to remember that kids - especially kids ages 6 and under - don’t have the same sense of time as we do. The passage of years so critical to our self awareness doesn’t really click with them yet. Nor do kids have the deep well of memories that can engender strong emotions of nostalgia or loss in connection to events like the Gorge wildfire. Rather, kids naturally tend to be forward-looking because their life is still at its beginning. Their thoughts tend to be on what comes next.
Like those of us who only remember a post-eruption Mt Saint Helens, the post-fire Gorge will be the only Gorge that young kids really know. They will grow with it as it transforms. They will become adults as the forest grows. And as they enter into adulthood, they become the stewards of a post-wildfire gorge. Thus, one way to talk about this change is thinking of the wildfire as the beginning of something new.
We can talk about the gorge with anticipation. We can be curious about its future. We can start to wonder aloud what kinds of growth will appear first.
In addition, we can also look to other places in our region where an dramatic ecological event (either natural or human made) has occurred. These places provide a wealth of useful information for kids to learn about the ways that nature adapts and responds.
An obvious place to start, of course, is Mount Saint Helens.
Even from the distance of Portland kids can see how the volcano looks different than the other snowcapped peaks on our horizon. A trip to the National Monument offers a chance to see change at its most dramatic. The regrowth shows how relatively quickly life returns. If kids have friends or relatives who lived in the area during the eruption, they might enjoy talking to them about what it was like when the volcano erupted. National Geographic has published a great photo series of before and after the eruption that helps kids see how the mountain was transformed.
Something to keep in mind if you decide to explore this volcano with your child: if you go to the park's visitor center, it's a good idea to pre-screen any material before you show them to your child. Some material (particularly the documentary film) might be scary to some.
Changes in the Portland Landscape
You don't have to travel very far to see signs of nature in transformation. Several of the parks in Portland that we have made trail packets for include evidence of change has happened due to a human or ecological events. Below are three that we recommend taking the time to explore a little more closely with your kids.
Tryon Creek State Park:
Wapato Greenway State Park on Sauvie Island:
Witch’s Castle/Lower MacCleay Trail in Forest Park:
We recently introduced a special Halloween themed packet about "Witch’s Castle” in Forest Park. Filled with fun “spooky” activities, this packet is all about honoring the ways that the Witch's Castle stirs the imagination. Notably, one of the two trails featured in this packet has been closed all summer due to repairs that needed to be made after last year’s ice storms.
When the Lower MacCleay trail reopens, families will get to see the result of the Portland Park & Rec Dept’s hard work. What a great place for kids to learn about the service of others who help to fix trail after natural disasters.
The Witch’s Castle is also a place to learn about how ecological events can transform a place permanently. The "Witch's Castle" is actually an old public restroom that was damaged by a storm in the 1960s. Since that storm, the building has further deteriorated as seasonal rains and winds have worn away parts of its facade. In the packet, we include an activity to help kids imagine the building as it once stood. We also celebrate the ways the structure continues to play an important role long after its role as a restroom ended. The building has become an icon of the park because it is a place of imaginative wonder. It lives on as a place for fantasy and exploration.
Finally, if you are interested in any of these packets, throughout the month of September they are 20% off with the CHECKOUT CODE: September
To Shop for individual packets or subscriptions: