They can lay waste to hundreds of square miles of mature trees and displace wildlife. If they spread to areas of human habitation, they can raze buildings to the ground and devastate communities.
And yet, fires can play an important role in nature. Trying to suppress them too drastically can have a negative effect on the ecology of the forest.
It can backfire, so to speak.
Take the giant sequoia, native to inland California. This majestic tree can live for thousands of years and grow to a height of almost 300 feet.
You’d think that protecting groves of sequoias from fire would help preserve them. But sometimes when we interfere with the natural cycle of fire and regrowth, we do a forest no favours.
The suppression of fire during the last century by U.S. land management authorities actually hobbled the sequoia’s ability to survive. Its seedlings can only grow into mature trees if competing plants are regularly eliminated by low-level forest fires. (The sequoia’s spongy bark helps protect it against fire.)
Not only that, the cones of the sequoia require the intense heat of a forest fire in order to open up and release their cargo of seeds. If the surrounding ground has just been cleared of competing vegetation by fire and enriched with the resultant nutritious ash, the seeds are given an additional leg up to grow.
So the sequoia can only grow to its impressive grandeur with the help of fire.
Has your head been spinning with all the changes the world has undergone in the past several years?
We stumble through one crisis, only to find another totally unexpected one emerge. We wonder if life will ever truly be the same again.
It’s at times like these that we need something that never changes, much like conifers.
During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, I’m thankful for coniferous trees. These loyal friends, like the spruces, pines and firs, still have their mantle of green, which they’ll keep year-round. These silent sentinels might not be flashy, but we can count on them not to change.
God’s character is like that, too.
When the world seems to be in turmoil, and life is changing in ways that are distressing and unpredictable, we need something unchanging to hold on to. That something is our eternal Heavenly Father.
They have numerous ways of dispersing their seeds to grow new plants, methods that go far beyond simply dropping a seed to the ground from the mother plant above.
Some plants sport wings on their seeds (called samaras) to enable the wind to carry them farther away from the mother tree than regular seeds could go. The maple tree uses this method of seed dispersal: once released from the tree, its seeds spin through the air like helicopters to find a new home.
Other seeds, like that of the milkweed, drift on the wind using their own downy parachutes. Dandelions do the same (much to the chagrin of those trying to maintain a dandelion-free lawn!).
Some seeds come wrapped in tasty packages, like that of the raspberry. Animals or birds eat the berry, then excrete the seed later on (along with some “fertilizer”).
The burdock plant takes another tack: its seeds have sticky hooks that attach to an animal’s fur as it passes by. The seed essentially “hitchhikes” to begin life in another location.
Another intriguing method of seed dispersal is used by the jewelweed plant. Its seed pod “explodes” when touched, flinging the seeds far and wide. It’s no coincidence that jewelweed also goes by the name “touch-me-not.”
I guess we can’t put nature in a box when it comes to seed dispersal. It uses a variety of creative ways to achieve its goal of propagating new plants.
We can’t put limits on God either.
He uses many different ways to plant the seed of the Word of God in people’s hearts.
You might guess mustard seeds. Close, but not quite.
How about poppy seeds?
They’re very tiny. You’ll find out how extremely tiny they are if you accidentally spill them on the floor. You’ll discover that you can’t pick them all up by hand: it’s hopeless. You have to bring out your vacuum. (Don’t ask me how I found this out!)
Actually, the tiniest seeds on earth are said to be those of certain orchids from the tropical rainforest. Each of these dust-like seeds weighs only one 35 millionth of an ounce. They’re smaller than a grain of salt.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the prize for the largest seed on earth probably goes to the Coco-de-Mer palm tree of the Seychelles Islands. One of its seeds can weigh up to 45 pounds.
Mustard seeds are a bit larger than poppy seeds, but they’re still exceptionally tiny compared to most seeds.
They’re so small that Jesus used them as an example in one of His teachings. Surprisingly, He said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we could see great things accomplished.
How is this possible?
Because when we have even a small amount of pure faith, God uses it as a force multiplier. Our tiny contribution somehow provides the spark for God’s power to show up in a big way.
Looking out the window here at The Faith Cafe, you see that the trees in the park display a stark beauty.
Stripped of their leaves in winter, they stand amid the snow looking rather barren and forlorn.
But a funny thing happens when a tree has lost its leaves: you can see things that you didn’t know were there before.
Going for a walk in your neighbourhood in winter, you might see that the bare trees are now revealing things that had been concealed by summer’s foliage. You might be surprised to see a bird’s nest the size of a teacup nestled in the bare branches; you’d passed beneath it dozens of times without knowing it was right above you.
Or you might see a larger nest, called a drey, which was built by squirrels. You’d had no idea that the squirrels had been raising a family there in their hidden home, perhaps in a tree just feet from your own house.
With the trees denuded of leaves, you might spot a kite or balloon that had been caught in the branches months before. Only winter could reveal this lost object. Maybe it belonged to your child: “So that’s where it went!” you think.
Or you realize that there are dead branches in some of the trees around your house that need removing. You can only see the problem now that the dense foliage has been stripped away.
So it is with us, too.
Sometimes there are things we can only see when we hit a barren season in our lives, brought on by a loss, a breakup, a setback, or a disappointment. Sometimes it’s only when something has been stripped away from us that other things are revealed.
Perhaps you squeezed the “mouth” of a snapdragon flower to make it “talk.”
Or maybe you held a buttercup underneath the chin of a friend. If it reflected back a yellow colour, it meant that they liked butter (apparently, everyone does!).
Probably one of the most famous flower games involves the daisy: it’s considered the oracle of affairs of the heart. The daisy supposedly has the ability to tell you if your sweetheart truly loves you or not.
It goes like this: you pluck off each petal of a daisy in turn, and as you do so, alternately say, “He loves me,” or “He loves me not.”
The final petal tells you which statement is true.
You’re left in suspense the whole time, and worry about what the last petal will reveal.
I know this is just a children’s game, but even as adults we sometimes worry if we’re truly loved, don’t we?
Human love can be a fickle thing, and we can often be unsure about the commitment and loyalty of those we love.
That’s why it’s so good to know that with Jesus, we’re never left wondering whether He loves us or not. He never leaves us in suspense as to whether He cares.
If you feel like you could use a clean slate, you’re not the only one.
Birch trees feel the need to start afresh with a new page occasionally, too.
Except they do it literally, by allowing their outer bark to peel off to reveal a fresh layer underneath.
Why do birches do this?
After all, most trees don’t shed their bark. As trees grow from the inside out, their rigid outer bark, which can’t stretch, splits and cracks instead. This gives tree bark the rough texture and fissure-like patterns that we’re all familiar with.
The drawback of these crevices and grooves is that pests and parasites like to burrow into them, which can affect the health of the tree.
Birches have solved this problem by growing smooth bark. This type of bark doesn’t split, which means it’s more impervious to insects, bacteria and fungi. As the birch grows, it exfoliates some of its outer bark, like a snake shedding its skin.
Along with the shed bark the tree is able to cast off insects, moss and lichen at the same time. Birch trees are continually refreshing themselves.
Smart, isn’t it?
Could you use a fresh start, too? Would you like to get rid of some things that are dragging you down?
Sometimes Mother Nature can reach out and bite you.
If you’ve ever suffered the ill effects of a run-in with stinging nettles or poison ivy, you’ll know what I mean.
Both of these plants produce an unpleasant, itchy rash if your exposed skin comes in contact with them. If this happens when you’re out in the woods and nowhere near a pharmacy to buy rash cream, where do you find some relief?
From Mother Nature herself!
The wilderness might have stung you, but it also provides an effective solution.
Plants such as dock and jewelweed (also called touch-me-not) help relieve the sting from nettles and the itch from poison ivy. The sap of these “rescue” plants, when rubbed on the skin, provides a cooling, soothing effect. Native Americans have known this trick for millennia.
Conveniently, dock and jewelweed can usually be found growing in the same area as poison ivy and stinging nettles.
Coincidence? I’m not so sure.
I think God placed the “cures” near the harmful plants on purpose.
For one thing, He knew we’d need a ready remedy for skin woes when out in the bush.
Also, it illustrates a truth contained in the Bible:
When we are faced with temptation, God always provides a way of escape along with it.
If you’re a gardener, you probably have a stash of seeds tucked away.
I certainly do. I have a special bin in a cupboard where I store all my seed packets:
Envelopes containing seeds I’ve harvested over the years from plants in my garden. Seeds that friends have collected from their own gardens and then passed on to me, along with handwritten notes about the plants.
Packets of seeds I’ve bought the Botanic Garden’s seed fairs that look intriguing: seeds of rare plants, unusual colours of better known plants, or hard-to-find heirloom varieties of vegetables or flowers.
I have a veritable treasure trove of seeds in my cupboard!
There’s only one problem:
Those seeds are doing me absolutely no good sitting in a bin on a shelf.
I may take the packets out from time to time and look rapturously at the photos on the front. I might imagine how nice it would be to grow such gorgeous flowers or unusual veggies.
But until I put those seeds in the ground, all they are is wishful thinking and pretty pictures.
If I don’t take a step of faith and plant my seeds, I’ll never get a harvest.
Similarly, we sometimes leave our dreams and desires on a shelf, so to speak.