Keep Your Eyes On The Son

Image by mbll from Pixabay

Why don’t trees freeze to death in winter?

After all, if you or I stood outside naked for several months in sub-zero temperatures, we’d soon be turned into frosty statues.

Trees can’t burrow into the ground and hibernate like bears, and they can’t fly south like migratory birds. They’re fixed in place, at the mercy of the elements.

And yet they somehow survive through the cold depths of winter. Why don’t they turn to ice, since, like other living things, they’re made mostly of water?

Their trick is something called “hardening.”

In autumn, trees in cold climates undergo a change whereby water flows out of their cells. The concentrated sugars, proteins, and acids left behind act as a potent antifreeze. The water now in the spaces between the cells is so pure that ice crystals can’t form. This ultra-pure water can be cooled to -40 degrees F and still remain an ice-free liquid.

Pretty cool, isn’t it?

But what is it that triggers the hardening?

Ah, this is where we can learn a lesson from the trees.

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The Fires of Life

Image of giant sequoia by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Forest fires are fearsome things.

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.

Perhaps the same is true of us.

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The Blessings Of Barren Seasons

Image by Henning Sørby from Pixabay

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.

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The Bright Side of Storms

Photo by slgckgc on Flickr CC BY-2.0

Gardeners know that storms can wreak terrible havoc with their plant friends.

If the winds are strong enough, mature trees can be downed, leaving a gaping hole where they once stood.

In a garden, the loss of a large tree upsets the ecosystem of the area. It changes all manner of things, from the shade afforded plants in the understory, to the strength of the wind that buffets them, to the amount of rain reaching the ground. The entire microclimate is affected.

But the subtraction of a tree also presents new opportunities for a gardener.

Suddenly, more sunlight and rain can reach the area. There is space now for new plants or trees to grow that couldn’t before. Where once the gardener was limited to plants suitable only for shade, now he or she can consider roses, vegetables or other sun-loving plants.

So I suppose a storm’s effects aren’t always strictly negative for gardeners.

But what about the storms of life? Is there anything good that can come when some disaster leaves a gaping hole in our lives?

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With God, You Get the Flower First!

Redbud blossoms. Photo by Sheila Brown, Public Domain CC0

Sometimes nature can be a bit unpredictable—things happen in an order we wouldn’t expect.

Normally, plants put forth leaves long before they produce flowers.

But some trees and shrubs flip the script, so to speak.

With certain plants, the normal sequence is reversed: the flowers come first, before the leaves have developed.

A good example is the beautiful redbud tree. It puts forth gorgeous pink flowers on its bare branches in early spring, when none of its leaves are yet in sight.

The forsythia shrub bears its bright yellow flowers in advance of its leaves, and the lovely magnolia presents its pink or white blooms before the green foliage appears. Some maples and oaks also exhibit this flower-first behaviour, although with less showy blossoms.

All of these plants give us a treat in springtime when we’re starved for colour. We get the flower first without having to wait for the leaves.

Why do some plants reverse the normal order of things?

Some trees are wind-pollinated, so put forth flowers before their bulky leaves get in the way. The same goes for flowers that need extra sunlight. Other plants produce a mass of conspicuous flowers first, unobscured by leaves, to better attract the attention of pollinating insects.

Did you know that God also flipped the script and gave us the flower first, so to speak?

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Beauty in Unexpected Places

Burl on Tree Trunk.
Image by Evelyn Simak, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA-2.0

Sometimes there can be magic hidden within the most unlikely of places.

Take tree burls, for instance (or burrs, to our British friends).

These rounded, knotty growths found on tree trunks can seem very ugly.

Burls form when the tree is under some kind of stress, causing bud growth cells to develop in an abnormal way. Such stressors might include bacteria, viruses, fungi, insect infestations, or wounds. A burl is visible evidence of how the tree is dealing with these attacks.

They look rather like tumours, and mar the otherwise regular pattern of the bark.

Surely there’s nothing good about burls?

But there is.

Their unsightly exterior hides magnificence.

Few people know that inside these contorted and gnarled outgrowths is concealed something wonderful. The wood that burls yield is unusual and highly figured, making it valued and sought after by woodworkers and artists.

This unique wood is prized for its beauty and rarity, and is often used for veneers or inlays in fine furniture, trim or panelling inside luxury cars, and for household objects like bowls or pens, which become works of art.

Do you have a few “burls” in your life? Some knotty problems that have grown into a tangled mess?

Wonder if God could ever bring something good out of them?

He can!

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The Best Tree to Climb

Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Did you climb trees when you were a child? (Or do you still?)

As a bit of a tomboy in my childhood, I was an inveterate tree-climber.

But I quickly learned that some trees were a lot easier to climb than others.

Some trees have rough bark, prickly needles or sticky, oozing sap: I wouldn’t even bother trying to climb those. Other trees might have smooth bark, but their branches were too close together or too high off the ground for a child to manage.

The old apple tree in my backyard was perfect, however. It had been climbed by generations of neighbourhood kids, with the result that much of the bark on the best branches had been worn smooth by little hands.

Its limbs had open architecture, making them as welcoming to children as open arms. And they were low enough to the ground that even the youngest tyke could clamber up.

That tree was a magnet for the neighbourhood kids, a favourite spot for us to gather. I have fond memories of it!

As I look back, it seems to me that we as believers should try to be a bit more like that old apple tree.

How?

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Turn Over A New Leaf!

Image by Websi from Pixabay

If you live in an region where the trees drop their leaves in the fall, you’ll have noticed something.

Some species of trees are quick to cast off their leaves once the weather turns colder. In my area, the mountain ash trees are always the first to be denuded of leaves in October.

Other trees seem more reluctant to give up their leafy attire, holding on stubbornly until the frost and the wind finally make them release their grip. In my backyard, an old sugar maple is usually the laggard.

The most notorious holdouts, however, are immature beech trees. They retain their dried leaves through the whole winter, only dropping them when the new growth of spring finally forces the old leaves off the branches.

We can be a bit like young beech trees, too, I think.

We may hold on too long to something that isn’t working, despite evidence that we should let it go.

Or we may cling to a dream that is clearly unrealistic, even though God is trying to nudge us in a different direction.

Sometimes God is telling us that it’s time to turn over a new leaf, so to speak. He wants us to cast off outmoded ways of thinking and let go of unproductive ways of doing things.

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Still Water Reflects Best

Lago di Limides, Italy
Photo by Julius Silver on Pixabay

We seem to have difficulty being still these days, don’t we?

For many of us, life happens at warp speed. We’re always on the go, and have little downtime to pause and reflect on things.

But with all our constant motion, are we missing out on something?

Recently, I visited a park with a pond large enough to almost be a small lake. A slight breeze left ripples on the water, disturbing the reflection of the trees in the distance. The image on the water’s surface was wavy and impressionistic, not a true representation of the landscape nearby.

I then walked to a different part of the park where a river flowed lazily into the pond. The water was running slowly, and because it was sheltered from the breeze in this area, it was very still. The trees here were perfectly reflected in the water, giving a mirror image of their true forms.

I guess that to get the best reflection in water, stillness is the key.

Perhaps the spiritual lesson here is that if our lives are too frantic, it’s hard for us to reflect Christ.

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How To Make Maple Syrup

Collecting maple sap the traditional way, in buckets

Sometimes the sweetest things take the most effort to produce, don’t they?

Take, for instance, maple syrup, one of Canada’s iconic products. We often use it atop pancakes or waffles, or in desserts (see below). This delicious liquid starts out as sap collected from sugar maple trees.

Right now it’s maple syrup season in Eastern Canada: as the weather warms, the sap in the trees starts flowing freely. Holes are drilled into the trunks of the maples, and buckets or tubing collects the dripping sap, which is then transported to a central location.

And then it’s ready to be bottled, right? No! Actually, the process has only just begun.

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