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Octopus symbol of healing rises from ashes of Archie Creek Fire

Chango uses a chainsaw to create a sculpture of an octopus from a tree burned in the 2020 Archie Creek Fire east of Idleyld Park on Friday.

In early November, a crew of timber workers dislodged a badly burned stump from the Archie Creek Fire along Rock Creek Road.

Once the stump was out of the ground, one of the workers had his gazed fixed on the remnant of dead wood, which still had seven healthy, strong roots and one which had been badly burned as a result of the fire.

Mike Pryor, owner and operator of Evergreen Arborists, looked at his friend and faller known as “Chango” and said, “You see something, don’t you?”

Chango told Pryor: “I want to do this.”

“This” was turning that eight-legged, 4-foot-tall stump into an octopus, a marine animal which the 54-year-old Chango said helps symbolize healing and rebirth.

“When an octopus is attacked and loses a tentacle, over time that tentacle will grow back,” Chango said. “That’s what happened up here, man. This community lost a tentacle, but in time it will grow back.”

Pryor and his Evergreen Arborists team have long since left their work on helping clean up the aftermath of the Archie Creek Fire, but Chango chose to stay. Since late November he has been working on his sculpture six or even seven days a week. Since Pryor owns the Illahee Ranch near Dry Creek further east up the North Umpqua River, Chango has a place to stay and recharge his batteries.

“At first, he was working on it during his weekends and days off, but we’ve been out for a little more than two months and he stayed to continue to work on it,” Pryor said.

“We found that piece, and it just went from there.”

The stump was carefully moved onto a piece of land owned by Wally Plikat of Plikat Logging. What once was a plush stand of timber has been reduced to bark chips from other stumps that have been grinded down to help re-stabilize the soil.

But now, roughly 100 yards off the main road, Chango is hard at work, looking, feeling, grinding, notching, all while greeting curious onlookers. The stump is propped up by three cut rounds of Douglas fir, which serve as the easel to Chango’s canvas.

An artist at heart, Chango said he has fallen in love with the concept of three-dimensional art, and especially when wood is the canvas.

“There’s something about three-dimensional art. I just love being able to go around them,” Chango said. “But it’s also challenging because you have to be careful. Once that wood is gone, you can’t get it back.”

The intricacy of Chango’s work is evident the moment someone lays eyes on his piece of heaven which survived Hell just six months earlier. With the use of multiple chainsaws and grinders, the physiological detail is quite striking, down to the suckers on the tentacle of an octopus.

Nobody is paying Chango for his work, other than he has continued to be paid by Evergreen Arborists while staying behind to finish what is intended to be a gift to the Idleyld Park community.

“We’re not trying to get anything out of it, at all,” Pryor said.

Instead, the finished product will be donated to Plikat, who will be free to put it on display for the community wherever he sees fit.

Chango said that he hopes to have the sculpture finished in the next two or three weeks.