A Message from Mark Holdaway
On Resilience

Happy Mark

People in southern California right now are experiencing a heart-breaking loss of homes and forests. I know a little of what they are feeling. In the summers of 2002 and 2003, we in Tucson experienced three terrible fires, which ravaged giant sections of the 9000 foot high Santa Catalina mountains just north of Tucson and the not so high Rincons to the east of Tucson.

My youngest son was eight at the time of the first fire, and he was very worried that the fire would come down off the mountain and consume the houses of Tucson. While my logical mind could reason with this fear, the best I could tell my son was that I would take care of him, no matter what happened. Of course, the fire didn't come down into Tucson, nor did the next two fires, but many of the houses and cabins did burn up on the mountain.

I used to love hiking in the Santa Catalina mountains, but after those fires devastated the mountain, I decided to give the mountain a rest. I didn't want to see the mountain in that burnt and broken state.

Besides, since 2005, I have been working like crazy building up the kalimba business. Spending 60-80 hours a week writing music, writing books, doing newsletters, taking pictures, shipping kalimbas, doing performances, and recording, doesn't leave much time for hiking. I recently read that most new businesses that fail do so for the simple reason that the owners don't work hard enough. Well, that is not the case with Kalimba Magic. Of course, the fact that I love doing what I am doing certainly helps me to put in the long hours.

But it is time to slow down a bit. We haven't achieved our goals, but we are on the path. We are experiencing a measure of success, and we are able to step back from that 60-80 hours of work each week. And a big reason to step back is my family. My youngest son, who had never expressed much interest in hiking, has set a goal for himself: a beautiful 14,000 foot peak in Colorado next summer. So, we are training, and we have started that training in our own backyard, climbing in the Santa Catalina mountains.

Aspen in the Catalinas
Young aspen in the Santa Catalina Mountains,
and burned, dead trees above them.

Before humans suppressed fire in these mountains, fire was a naturally and regularly occurring phenomenon that helped clean out the thickets under the canopies. But after a century of a tragically misinformed Smokey the Bear ideology, these forests have transformed into tinder boxes filled with undergrowth, i.e., they are catastrophic wildfires waiting to happen. Such fires burn so incredibly hot that they easily consume old growth forests and the animal species dependent on them. This kind of fire can consume a house, literally, in seconds.

Last week, I returned to the Catalinas and hiked through areas where the worst fires had blazed. I could still see lots of evidence of the destruction, but in many places I also encountered vibrant young Aspens sprouting up, as well as a massive understory of brillliant ferns. It will take a very long time for our burned mature forests to re-establish themselves. Increasing temperatures due to global warming will further complicate their return. Not to mention, if our region undergoes another year of the severe kind of drought that we experienced in 2002, these young aspen could become the kindling to fuel the next giant conflagration. But nature is always trying to bounce back.

I also noticed how Summerhaven, the little town at the top of Mount Lemmon, is rebuilding. Not everyone who lost their home gave up and moved away. Instead, it appears this community has gotten closer and smarter. They are working together with the Forest Service to learn how to coexist safely with their wild surroundings: allowing prescribed burns to be administered, replacing shingle roofs with aluminum, clearing out dead wood and thicket everywhere.

These fires were very sobering for all of us—indeed, reminding us of the precarious state of the greater environment of the planet. But my hope is that we, like the brave souls of Summerhaven, will dedicate ourselves to learning how to live with nature, and maybe, just maybe our life on this planet can become sustainable, and we may even endure the bleak scenarios predicted by the global climate change scientists.

Last, but far from least, I hope that the people who are working hard to rebuild their lives will allow themselves to slow down here and there, share time with their loved ones, keep their kalimbas with them as they hike through their forests, and make a joyful sound.

—Mark Holdaway, September 4, 2009


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