We’Ve Been Warned

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Sometimes, even billowing clouds of soot can have a silver lining — at least for cock-eyed optimists.

So we’re optimistic that Beaver Valley’s near death experience under a pillar of smoke and ash will have two happy outcomes, which may avert a genuine disaster down the road.

First, we hope that every community in Rim Country will rededicate itself to a “firewise” approach to minimize the buildup of dangerous brush and thickets of trees in and near their communities. The residents of Beaver Valley, already nationally recognized for their firewise program, certainly absorbed the lesson. Out in front of the development, returning evacuees put up the sign: “Beaver Valley, fire wiser.”

Second, we hope that the Forest Service and other agencies take note of Payson Mayor Kenny Evans effort to both protect and utilize the East Verde River.

We don’t know whether campers at the Water Wheel Campground had anything to do with starting the fire, but clearly the popular campsite needs better regulation —including toilets, trash pickup and fire rings and standing camp stoves. The streamside campsites just below one of the state’s best swimming holes remains a jewel of Rim Country — the kind of place that can define us as a Mecca for visitors who want to enjoy the out-of-doors.

Evans has had repeated meetings with the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, hoping to light a fire under the idea that the East Verde needs a master plan, to develop its recreational potential without letting a careless stampede of visitors damage one of the state’s most vibrant cottonwood and willow habitats. The environmental studies for the Blue Ridge pipeline will provide key information needed to form such a plan.

The Water Wheel Fire was a graphic warning.

Only a fool would ignore a warning with 80-foot flames and a column of smoke visible 10 miles away.

So let’s not be foolish.

Love rises up

“Love is patient, love is kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

Corinthians

How do you endure the loss of love?

How do you endure the loss of a child you love?

How do you endure the never-more, the empty arms, the ache of memory?

Who can say, save those who have passed through that dark place. Who can ever know what to say to people like Charlie and Rhonda Walters, whose beloved 18-year-old son everyone called Bear died in a car crash in 2007 in Star Valley.

Only love can bring the human heart through such a time, although it is love that has caused them such wrenching a pain.

Rhonda and Charlie have shuffled through the two years in the shadow. They die a little each time they pass by the spot where Andy died, but every day they also say a prayer of gratitude for the time they had with their boy.

They’d do anything for one more “bear hug,” but there’s nothing to do — but to treasure his memory and perhaps find some way to bring comfort to someone else, love’s one sure balm for senseless pain.

Then the Walters heard about the Arizona Highway Patrol Association’s “Comfort Bear” program. A simple thing. Hardly worth mentioning, in a world full of so much loss.

State highway patrol officers like to keep teddy bears in their squad cars, so they have something to give to children in the midst of tragedy and trauma. The Walters figured they’d ask friends to donate teddy bears to the program, vowing that for each donated bear they’d make a donation to the Andy Walters Visual Arts Scholarship fund they set up at Marcos de Niza High School.

Roundup sports writer Max Foster, who once coached Charlie, mentioned it in a small story inside the paper a couple of weeks ago.

But a funny thing happened. Teddy bears started showing up on our doorstep, five, 10, 20 — more than a hundred — bags and boxes of bears. Max turned them over to the Walters, who turned them over to the highway patrol — who will give them to children struggling to understand why such terrible things happen in so beautiful a world.

It’s like all those strangers love Bear too, because love is strange that way — it rises up on the wings it makes, on the wind it makes, to the sky it makes.

The prophets said it best: “There are three things that last forever: faith, hope and love; but the greatest of them all is love.”

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