In the summer of 2020 I watched in helplessness and horror, as did so many in the Cabrillo Festival community, as the Warnella and Waddell fires burned. From my pandemic sequestration in Pittsburgh I read about evacuations and loss and reflected on the forests of Santa Cruz County and the canopies of protection and comfort they usually provide. They were on fire for more than a month.
I thought of the great redwoods and began to panic about the forest, though I shouldn’t have worried. The trees need the cyclic cleanse of conflagration (something we’ve only begun to recently appreciate) – like the Sequoia groves on the other side of the Central Valley, redwoods are spurred to new growth and life by the heat. While their bark is blackened but not usually charred, new growth, via new shoots at the tree’s base, is spurred. These redwood sprouts grow very quickly – up to seven feet – in the first year after a fire. Along with all of the fireweed, mosses, grasses, and other newly-sunlit forest floor dwellers, regeneration is in process almost immediately.
I think of this work as a hopeful companion to Melt, my 2018 piece for Cristi Macelaru and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, I deliberately chose not to view the wildfires of 2020 in terms of their tragic human costs. Surely, so many still suffer these fires’ effects, and human contributions to climate change make planning for the future of forests difficult. Rather, Sprout mirrors a natural forest cycle – growth, stasis, decay, regrowth; short of utter destruction, it stops for no person. Where time is relative and decades are undone in minutes and vice-versa, the scale of this cycle is anything but human. Hauntingly beautiful and awesome indeed.