Several years before Radical Joy for Hard Times was founded, when we were still searching for a way to reconnect people with wounded places, RadJoy founder Trebbe Johnson brought a group to the site of a Virginia forest that had recently been burned by a wildfire. The group piled out of cars to confront a black, spiky landscape without a trace of green. After sharing their first impressions in a circle, everyone went off to explore on their own.
Later they shared the stories of what had happened. Carolyn wandered through the forest until she came upon a sapling tree. The tree was badly charred, likely dead, and her heart swelled with pity for it. She couldn't help thinking of her sister, who was also being burned as she underwent radiation and chemotherapy for breast cancer. Carolyn's sorrow about the violence to the body of the tree crested into grief for her sister. She wept for both. Then she put her arms around the tree and sang it a lullaby that her mother had sung to her and her sister when they were small.
Jed's attention was caught by an emaciated buck that was slowly picking its way through the forest. Barely raising its hooves, its nose close to the ground, it searched for some morsel of green to eat. Carefully Jed crept closer until he was just a few feet behind the deer. The buck showed no fear of him, in fact did not even appear to notice him. Filled with a mix of sadness and curiosity, Jed followed the animal, noticing how it moved, how it stopped, how it plodded ahead, propelled by some indefatigable need to survive. He was amazed by the persistence of the deer, and the longer he stayed with it, the more he admired it.
As she moved away from the group, Hannah felt a surge of revulsion. She wished she had not come on this excursion and was annoyed with Trebbe for suggesting it. Because she couldn't leave, however, she had no choice but to keep walking around, frequently glancing at her watch. When she came upon a small shoot of green poking through the ash, she was overjoyed. Her first reaction was to look around for someone to share it with.
To Dennis the dead black landscape seemed oddly beautiful. The burned bark of the trees reminded him of lizard skin, maybe dinosaur skin. The more he looked, the more the whole place suggested a science fiction world. He picked up a piece of charcoal and blackened his face and arms with it.
Each person who walked in the burned forest responded to it in a way that was utterly personal. Each entered into relationship with a place they had never before encountered and, up until a few hours earlier, would most likely not even have wanted to encounter. The more they looked not with judgment but with curiosity and fascination, the more they were able to see, both about the forest and about their own lives and reactions. The more they stopped fighting what was there and found a level of acceptance and equilibrium, the more was revealed to them.