by Randy King
Chef Randy King is the author of Chef in the Wild and writer of the blog of the same title. Randy has been published in Outdoor Life, Cooking Wild, Restaurants and Institutions and many others, and is a reporter for the Boise Weekly & columnist for Northwest Sportsman Magazine.
Marching orders for the brave firefighters out west.
I stand at the window of my suburban home and watch the red glow in the distance move. I watch it as it slowly takes hill after hill, canyon after canyon, ranch after ranch. I don’t cry, but I come close, seeing the flames take what I consider my “real” home. The Soda Fire does not flinch at my heartache, it simply keeps on burning the sage, juniper and grass that I hold so dear.
The mountains outside Nampa, Idaho are called the Owyhee’s and have helped feed five generations of my family. When my family initially migrated to Idaho in the early part of the 20th century they set up home in a community called Jordan Valley – a community that recently lost power due to fire burning 80+ power poles to the ground. At that time, life was different in the west; one could not help but live closer to the land then. My family hunted and foraged for food out of necessity not out of some yearning to reconnect to the land. Now in a time of PS4’s and iPhone apps, my family still uses the area for the bulk of its wild game diet.
As I watched the flames roll from hill to hill I knew that they were doing incalculable damage. Deer, elk, rabbits, hares, Chukar, Hungarian partridges, quail, pheasants, sage grouse and many other animals were losing their life or, at least, their home. The fire was traveling at one mile every eight minutes, faster than a herd of wild horses can travel. Twenty seven passed away when the fire rolled over the herd.
As a hunter I watched much of “my” prime land burn. My favorite Sage Grouse “honey hole” or lek (an area that the grouse congregate in, year after year) was now a black hillside. The mountain I shot my second deer on, named after my deiced uncle John, was now just gone. The stands of wild current bushes, in a meadow I fished as a child, are now black twigs sticking out of black ground. My surprise camas bulb gathering area, one I found only this past year, is now gone. I truly hope the bulbs can survive the flame and comeback next spring.
The Soda Fire simply took what it needed to live, it took food. But fire can be stopped. With the tremendous effort of the brave men and women firefighters no lives were lost. Sure, some buildings, some cattle and some fence – but no human life.
As the old legends of the phoenix go – a fire is needed for a beautiful creature to rise from the ashes. The cycle of birth and renewal will continue. Juniper trees, once encroaching the valuable Sage Grouse habitat are now gone. Opening up areas for better Sage Grouse habitat in the future. Large tracks of land will not be planted with native grasses, keeping the invasive ones at bay. But rebirth is years away, maybe a generation in certain spots, my children will be my age before they understand what has really happened.
But soon, when the smoke clears and the fire is out, I will make my move. Carefully, with a light step, into the land that feeds my family. The whole range is not gone, just a few hundred thousand acres in an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. Most of the Owyhee’s remains untouched. Soon I will don my boots and bow and go hunting for real food. The Soda Fire be damned.