after the fire

Toward the end of October, a brushfire scorched a 400-acre swath of land in the Catalinas. I could see it burning on the night of October 27 — I was on my way home after a late shift at work, and an eerie arc of flame was visible in the distance. The next morning, there was a bit of smoke still present, but by early afternoon, the Mount Lemmon Highway had reopened. As it turns out, it was Molino Basin that burned — not all of it, thank goodness, but a sizable portion. The general consensus is that the fire started at the shooting range across the road from Molino Canyon Vista.

Brushfires are sort of a new phenomenon to me; one of my biggest regrets while living in Michigan’s U.P. was that I never checked out the aftermath of the Duck Lake Fire in Luce County. After this fire in a desert scrub/grassland habitat, I wasn’t really sure what to expect — and so, over the last week, I’ve made a handful of trips to Molino Basin to survey the landscape.

There’s something both fascinating and sombre about the burnt fishhook barrels and the shin dagger agaves reduced to cinders.

And, looking at this barren landscape — a burnt snake skeleton beneath a charred yucca, the torched pincushion cacti — it is easy to fall into a sort of despair at all those little lives lost, the reptiles and insects and plants. But life is resilient, and I soon found that amongst the ashes bugs still went about their business: a tarantula burrow with a fresh sheet of silk over the entrance — small armies of ants working diligently amongst the singed spines of a barrel cactus — grasshoppers, normally so well-camouflaged, suddenly very conspicuous against the blackened earth.

One of the more exciting finds was this tiny Tenebrionid beetle, genus Araeoschizus. It was tucked beneath a charred piece of wood. Check out those incredible antennae!

I also spotted a couple dozen Hemipteran instars on a partially-burnt fishhook barrel.

When I returned today, the ground was wet with rain, and clouds obscured much of the mountains.

Much to my surprise, I found several millipedes hiding beneath pieces of scorched bark. In time, they will return the rotting wood to the earth, enriching the soil.

It being so late in the season, with temperatures dipping into the 40s (and below, in the higher elevations), the amount of bug life hasn’t been too visible. It’s pretty neat, then, to have seen as much as I did in an area that was on fire less than a month ago! I will be eager to see what Molino Basin looks like in the next few years — how quickly will the shrubs and cacti grow back? What spiders and insects (and millipedes!) will I observe in the years to come?

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