A New Book Rekindles Hope in the Face of Wildfire

As the West experiences ever more compressed fire cycles, one naturalist explores the lesser-told story of wildfire’s regenerative role in our ecosystem.

BERKELEY, CALIF — When the nature reserve at Cold Canyon went up in flames—a casualty of California’s raging fire seasons—Robin Lee Carlson embarked on a five-year journey to learn the legacy of the burn­. What she saw challenged prevailing assumptions about the destructive impact of wildfire, and with a new fire season on the horizon, her debut book The Cold Canyon Fire Journals (on sale August 2) opens our eyes to see that beneath the burn and beyond our despair lies another story.

“Wildfire feels like loss, like a hole in our heart where a beautiful, mature ecosystem used to be,” says Carlson, “But when fire comes at healthy intervals, far from being an unnatural cataclysm, it is an essential part of western habitats’ normal life. The damage and destruction of fire are essential for the vigorous flowering to come.”

Drawing on natural science, years of patient observation, and richly realized field sketches, Carlson’s study of the canyon—a site that sees over 65,000 visitors a year—reveals how wildlife survives and thrives in the crucible of wildfire. From flame-repelling foaming newts to fire-following wildflowers, her portrait of a land re-sprouting from the ash illuminates the necessity of disturbance and renewal forged by flame. In this text she explores the purposes of good fire—well understood by Western Native Americans whose practices of prescribed burns were abandoned and criminalized by modern fire management policies—as well as the threat of too-frequent fire, exacerbated by climate breakdown.

Helping us to see that fire is more than merely a destroyer, The Cold Canyon Fire Journals shows us that where there’s smoke, there’s hope—and that fire fits seamlessly into the natural world’s normal and necessary patterns of change. As Carlson reveals, familiarity and deeper knowledge of this much-feared force are the antidote to our grief.

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About the Author

Robin Lee Carlson is a natural science writer and illustrator with degrees in evolutionary biology from UC Santa Cruz and the University of Chicago. Her artwork is grounded in observing and documenting the world around her as it unfolds. Visit her website at and follow her on Instagram @anthropocenesketchbook.

Praise for The Cold Canyon Fire Journals

The Cold Canyon Fire Journals is a celebration of a beauty that is larger than our comprehension. Our beloved world has burned and will burn again, Carlson tells us. But these pages offer a new way to relate to fire, kindling a respect for the natural world on its own terms. This is a book to cherish, to share, and to hold close when the skies once again darken with smoke.” 
KENDRA ATLEEWORK, author of Miracle Country

“The Cold Canyon Fire Journals is a captivating and matchless invitation to see, through Carlson’s incisive writing and charming artistry, a landscape recovering from fire. The relationship and lessons Carlson derives intertwine with her knowledge of global climate crisis and fire cycles—we are all better for being invited into this journey of recovery and reformation.”
BERONDA L. MONTGOMERY, author of Lessons from Plants

“That place can be a relationship is well understood; that fire is, less so. Robin Lee Carlson puts Cold Canyon, a place she knows intimately, together with fire, an oft-vexing visitor, and the result is a delightfully illustrated reimagining of the fire-catalyzed changes sweeping over us.”
STEPHEN PYNE, author of The Pyrocene

“As we follow Robin Carlson’s adventures and exploration in a post-fire landscape, we are given the raw footage from her nature journals and the deeper insights they inspire. We see the landscape through her eyes, tuned with the curiosity and insight of a scientist and the aesthetics and delight of an artist. This book is an authentic love song to the wonder, resilience and beauty of nature and the power of observation and inquiry.”
JOHN MUIR LAWS, author of The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling

“Robin Lee Carlson spent years field-sketching wildfire impacts, and in The Cold Canyon Fire Journals, she shows us that fire is not inherently bad but a process of change and renewal. Her detailed observations are important, and we can all learn from them as we seek to learn to live with fire in California.”
LAURA CUNNINGHAM, author of A State of Change

“In a time when those who love the living world must hold together joy and pain, beauty and loss, Robin Lee Carlson allows fire to become a teacher that opens both the physical landscape and her ‘imaginative sympathy.’ As a contemplation on ecological change, Cold Canyon reveals how a landscape forged in fire, over time and with loving attention, can deeply alter and revivify our perceptions.”
GAVIN VAN HORN, author of The Way of Coyote and co-editor of Kinship

The Cold Canyon Fire Journals:

Green Shoots and Silver Linings in the Ashes

by Robin Lee Carlson


288 pages, full color illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-59714-584-8

Artwork from The Cold Canyon Fire Journals.