On our travels through the British Isles, I have often noticed the roadsides crowned by beautiful lemon-yellow bushes, especially in the spring. I was very curious about them, because they are unlike anything we have in Michigan.To my delight, I discovered that they are “gorse” bushes…gorse—of course—being a staple on Eeyore’s menu but also a thorny plant of distinction into which a bear of very little brain fell early in the recorded life of Winnie-the-Pooh.And so, I was fascinated to learn that gorse plants are actually edible! The flowers can be used in salads and teas, and gorse is high in protein, used traditionally to make cattle fodder but also consumed by feral ponies, and—of course—Eeyores. So, if you’re trying to survive in the wilderness of the British Isles or California…a word to the wise survivalists (like my son-in-law and me.):)Gorse thrives in poor, rocky soil under drought conditions, and it can also be used for fuel in areas where little else will grow. For better and worse, it is a highly flammable, fire-climax plant, because the seed pods are largely opened by fire and new growth will spout again from the burned stumps.So far, so good. However, in the early May of 2011, while we were enjoying cloudless blue skies and fresh breezes, Ireland was turning into a tender box.As we left the lush vegetation of Glenveagh, we began to notice plumes of smoke rising in the distance, and as we headed southwest toward our next destination, Slieve League, we began to experience more and more concern over the smoke.I knew that sometimes there would be an intentional burn-off of brush…but was everybody burning off their brush at the same time? Plus, the fires didn’t seem to be in somebody’s backyard…they seemed to be racing along wilderness hills.By the golden hours of late afternoon, we saw a slight blue haze in the air that smelled of smoke and noticed that the cars coming toward us had on their headlights. Not a good sign, since there wasn’t a storm cloud in sight.Pretty soon we were passing the charred remains of the windswept countryside.At higher elevations, we could see that hundreds of acres had been devastated.When we stopped for dinner, we learned that the fires were totally out of control and were destroying vast areas of farmland that would takes years to restore.We learned that this was the worst year in many for gorse fires, due to a particularly severe winter that had killed off some of the vegetation, followed by a spring drought and high winds.According to BBC, fire fighters had received over 1,000 calls for help in more than 31 areas, and they were totally overwhelmed by the need. The worst of the bad news were rumors that some of the fires appeared to have been started intentionally. Incredible. Army troops were also working day and night along side the firefighters, struggling to contain and extinguish the flames. They even used helicopters to assist their operation by dumping thousands of liters of water on the flames.We were warned that we might not be able to get to our hotel that night (and we’d already paid!). The police were closing down many of the roads where the fires were jumping the highways.And, indeed, we were eventually stopped in our tracks and turned back. Oh, brother! Evening was coming on, and we really, really felt like we needed to press on to our destination. No one could tell us just how far around we’d need to go, and none of the signs were going to help us program our GPS in this situation. I had visions of the night long ago in southern California when Alan and I were trying to get to Morro Bay and got stopped by a mudslide in the mountains along Highway 41.
What happened? Well, Alan’s about to pick me up to visit a dear friend whose husband just passed away, so I’ll have to tell you the rest of the story tomorrow. But, the verse that sprang to my mind as I thought about this scary scene was James 3:5, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasts great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles.” Next time we’re tempted to say even just a little something intentionally nasty…let’s remember the gorse, of course!