We drive through the forest hills, which had been burned out when last I came here, a Teutonic village laid waste by Romans. The landscape had had a look of dry charcoal, a cindery barbecue pit to roast whole constellations in. The bare curve of the hills was easily discernible, flourishing trees ground down to discarded pencils. Ash everywhere, a foot thick, clinging to the tear ducts, sticking like dog licks to your face, your eyelashes. When you brought your feet back into the car, you left footprints like a moonman unpacking his suitcase at Cape Canaveral.
Now, six years into death, everything seems bushy, a greedy green bursting out where the flames had flared. Only here and there in the newness a pilot mast of the old growth stands up, a black beacon pointing pastward: Medieval scholars cribbing a bastard Latin, or ripped bikers tattooing ornate roses on their chests under hairy beards. The smell was of dew with the window down; healthful, with no hint of the million cigarettes that had been inhaled to their filters in one suck.