Fascinating Fireweed, or Why I Create Characters who’ve been through Fire

by Karen Wills

I’ve been distracted many times this summer by a bank of fireweed that grows at our front windows. Fireweed’s magenta to pink colors and life-giving nectar attract buzzing bees and thrumming hummingbirds. Various butterflies like to investigate it, too, for personal reasons.

It’s a glorious, unruly weed, never mistaken for a hot house flower. It grows wild where forest fires have decimated trees, where you’d think the earth charred beyond repair, like a person who’s lost loved ones, belongings, home, dreams. But look! Here comes this tall, slender, flexible plant rising out of devastation.

I like to create characters who have been laid waste, who’ve lost everything but strength to accept the challenge of starting over. Such people are in the ranks of the Irish immigrants who arrived in America numbed by starvation, Blacks who walked into the future from the brutality of slavery, Native Americans bearing the grief of lost culture, soldiers who returned home bearing the inner and outer scars of battle. These are the interesting people, especially when they can still summon strength and compassion. My main character in the soon to be released novel River with No Bridge is like that. People wounded by tragedy can become hardened, or lost, or become a source of inspiration and comfort.

Today I watch white, filament-fine hairs bear hundreds of fireweed seeds light as bubbles that sail away on late summer breezes. These seeds are released from protective capsules that cracked open as if from too much living. The seeds remind me of human acts of kindness. They’ll land somewhere and make the earth better, more nurturing, more beautiful.

Some stories lift us up and make us human. It’s those I dream of writing when I watch fireweed bloom and send its gifts into the welcoming air.

3 thoughts on “Fascinating Fireweed, or Why I Create Characters who’ve been through Fire

  1. Great post, Karen. I’ve often wondered who gets to decide what’s a flower and what’s a weed, especially since some of the “weeds” are so pretty.

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