A Second Chance at Life
by Davalynn Spencer
The smoke plume rose above the hill like a Genie from a bottle, twisting in on itself only to churn higher, spread wider.
For one surreal moment I thought I was living out a scene from my upcoming novel, The Rancher’s Second Chance. But no, that wasn’t it at all. This image was immediate, playing out before my eyes in real time.
I hurried from the college administration building to my car, sniffing the air like a hunting dog. My eyes stung from the dusty breath of burning grass, sage, timber. Lumber. As I drove out of the parking lot, the smoky cloud rolled over on its orange belly, warning me that flames licked just beyond my view.
Within minutes, emergency response teams flew past the Pueblo Community College entrance off U.S. Highway 50. Sheriff’s deputies, Search and Rescue, local and state fire protection districts, and law enforcement teams charged up the mountain. Then the highway locked down and no one living west of Cañon City went home that night. Even the Arkansas River was closed.
Close a river? In Colorado that means no commercial rafting or kayaking allowed. Everybody out!
The mountain wild fire chewed through 3,000 acres of pinion, juniper, and sage brush that day. It swept north toward the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, leapt across the gaping depths of the 1,053-foot river canyon, and lapped up park buildings on both sides.
But in the economic devastation, not one life was lost, human or animal. Even the great bridge itself was spared, sustaining only charred edges on a few wooden planks at one end. It survived—scarred but standing.
Four days later Highway 50 re-opened, white-water rafting resumed, and the Royal Gorge Route Railroad was back in business. Mountain residents returned to their homes, city fathers and managers met to plan restoration of the park and tourist attractions, and citizens heaved a collective sigh of relief as they unloaded hastily stuffed car trunks, laundry baskets, and anything else evacuees could pack and grab.
With eerie similarities to the bridge that I had no way of predicting, my novel presents a scarred but standing emblem of continuity—an old fire-ravaged oak. The fictional tree was inspired by a real oak that anchored the far corner of California ranchland my family once owned. Some horrible tragedy had gouged out its heart long before we arrived, yet it remained. Its branches spread like lifted arms, and life surged up through the rough mantle that wrapped around a fire-burned hollow. Each spring new leaves appeared on those outstretched arms. In spite of its deep wound, the tree lived.
The same type of renewal will take place next year here in the Colorado Rockies. New grass and sage brush will grow where the fire purged the land. The dry, beetle-ridden pines that fueled the flames will spread no more disease. Life will start anew, fresh, resilient, as if given a second chance. Or a third or fourth.
Like the bridge and the oak, we too suffer painful trials and stinging burns when God allows the purging of our personal landscapes. There is much He allows that I don’t understand, yet He is always on-scene. Never has He run the other direction shouting, “Let me know when it’s over.”
Like the first responders at the Royal Gorge fire, the Lord runs toward the conflagrations in our lives, rescuing us, pulling us from the rubble, enfolding us in His arms. His presence is our most priceless possession, something that cannot be taken away or reduced to ashes. And always, He brings rebirth, new life, and growth.
When we, like the bridge and the oak, are left scarred but standing, we face the same offer to continue, to take a second chance. We can sit and mope and grouse about how unfair life is, or we can stand up and step forward, trusting the Lord to “make all things new” as He has promised.
The decision is ours to make. But thank God, the miracle of new life is His.
Davalynn Spencer writes inspirational romance for the Western woman’s heart. She is a college English professor, newspaper columnist, musician, and speaker who makes her home on Colorado’s Front Range with her husband, Mike, and their Queensland heeler, Blue. Contact her at www.davalynnspencer.com and on Facebook.