Have you noticed an influx of birds to your neighborhood? The population of robins has boomed around here. I swear a few of them have soot on their feathers. Did they flee the conflagration to find refuge in my backyard? They’re welcome if they did, but I’m hoping amid the rebuilding in Boulder County, some habitat gets restored.

No, actually; in the aftermath, I hope everything improves in the next go-round. So much healing can come from the ability to apply the pain of the past toward a better future. That doesn’t happen if everyone simply races to reset everything as if nothing had ever happened. 

Indeed, nothing puts a person in their place like the force of nature. My grandmother once told me that if life sent me to my knees, I should stay there a bit and contemplate. The best time to examine and assess is when humbled by circumstance. 

Perhaps those dealing with devastation of the Marshall Fire will commit to some reflection, to go deeper into what they really want and why. Such work requires so much more effort. But to neglect it would be a type of moral failure for individual homeowners as well as officials in their broader communities. 

In that vein, I humbly offer a few suggestions hoping they may inspire others. The first is to realize opportunities for innovation. For instance, groups of homeowners could organize into cohesive units, a powerful tool for determining the nature of a neighborhood. They might bargain for lower insurance rates and expedite paperwork with various planning departments. Blocks could be sited in a way that promotes sociability rather than uniformity–as in a campus quad. As a large group, they could then contract for high-volume reductions in material costs and labor.  

Perhaps those materials needn’t include prohibitively priced lumber which is treated with highly flammable chemicals. What about the flame resistant and awesome natural cooling of straw bale walls which can be finished with concrete siding products? And wouldn’t it just be so perfect if some ambitious brainiac somewhere innovates a process whereby the junk and garbage we dump into landfills could be baked and compressed into flame retardant bricks of construction quality? All over the planet, refuse would become commodity and would thus disappear from rivers and oceans. Timbered land would remain intact to scrub the air clean. Housing design would no longer be limited to geometric angles.   

And if non-tradespeople can help construct a home for Habitat for Humanity, they certainly should be allowed to labor on their own future dwellings. In the cooperative group model, neighbors could assemble at one another’s sites to form walls or run wire for the day. Sort of a 21st century barn raising. So much more than a structure emerges from people working together. 

Some people don’t want to rebuild. What to do with the open lots?Money from Great Outdoors Colorado could be used to purchase land on which to build habitat pods. Add a couple park benches as well so that while the robins are roosting in trees, neighbors could meet and discuss the progress of their new homes. Perhaps they’d contribute to a community garden as well. 

One crucial factor will determine the course of any of these ideas or many others that will spring up like February crocuses. That is leadership. The sources of the right mixture of initiative and innovation comes from one of the true gifts of the American spirit. Anyone can step forward! Of course, officials from the feds to state to the cities and county work through the may discover new and improved ways of engaging in a real-world version of Sim-City. In addition, good ideas can come from all that love being expressed by the larger Colorado community. But successful futures require great financial input and elbow grease from the corporate world, from the scientific and professional sectors as well as enduring encouragement and acceptance by local governments. With patience and perseverance, vision and courage expand into shared visions and courage multiplied so to spread beyond burn scars. 

Maybe among the robins we’ll see a Phoenix or two. What wonderful world this could be. 

Judy Allison has enjoyed a long and varied career in media and has written for newspapers, magazines, cable TV, government entities and elected officials. She and her dog Torrey the Wonder-Bouvier wander through many neighborhoods in the region.