As a kid, my dad worked for the forestry department of BC. A major part of his work involved managing forest fires throughout the summer season. Managing fires, not eliminating them.
Fires are a vital part of the ecosystem of a forest, and while it seems illogical to allow a controlled burn, researchers are convinced of the importance of forest fires for the health of the region. In fact, in one study where a forest was not allowed to burn for over 40 years, scientists found that plant diversity fell by over 90%. The new growth, burst of nutrients from a fire’s ashes, and sunlight making it’s way to the forest floor invite new life, while young trees often survive wildfires and continue growing into a new forest.
Why does this matter?
It has to do with faith.
Seeing beyond the barren
There’s a burnt out region we drive through every summer, here in Manitoba. It’s… well, ugly. It’s along a popular canoe route, and though the route takes a weekend to travel, there’s a whole half a day that’s kind of uninspiring. It feels dead. In the middle of the Canadian shield, there’s no mountains or oceans to distract from the never ending landscape of… tree skeletons. Everyone dislikes that section and nobody wants to stop to picnic there.
When we see barrenness, we see death. We see the eyesore. We see the damage. We see the contrast between the beautiful forests and the empty terrain.
That’s where faith comes in. When you know that wildfires can benefit a region, you begin to look differently at the landscape. I began to watch for signs of life. I began to look closer. When I stopped trying to rush through that region, I saw it.
I saw the eagle building a nest in a tree’s skeleton, proud and territorial where he literally had an eagle’s eye view of any animal who dared live in that area. And there were animals! Mice in their burrows, moles digging through the earth, birds flitting here and there. And bugs. Of course, mosquitoes in abundance! Then with spring comes fireweed, a beautiful wild flower, and soon behind it grasslands and more wildflowers I can not identify. The trees are small and scrawny, and the landscape is still flat, but I can no longer call it barren. I can no longer call it dead.
I can focus on the burnt skeletons of trees, or I can notice the life that is already reclaiming the land.
I can scoff at the smallness of it all – a wildflower, a mouse – or I can marvel that this area will have 90% more biodiversity as a result of that wildfire.
I can dismiss the region and push on to appreciate the mighty waterfalls and towering oaks, or I can be in awe that there even are plant species (lodgepole pine, for one) that require a wildfire to germinate.
Burnt out places
I suspect every one of us has a burnt out place in our souls. I don’t know what set the fire, why it burnt so hot, or how many days, months or decades the damage happened. But I do know what it’s like to look at a barren landscape in the soul and want to push past it. I know what it’s like to want to avoid the ugly, and focus on where there is beauty or growth. I know what it’s like to be ashamed of burnt out landscapes and to despise those places in our soul.
Faith allows me to look at that place and believe God is creating something new. Faith allows me to zoom in, no longer focusing on the skeleton trees but beginning to notice the new growth. Faith gives me hope for a future. Faith believes that fire will birth new life, life that was impossible without the heat. Faith trusts that one day, that barren landscape will bear fruit.