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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Finally! At long last we’re starting to see signs of spring here in Toronto.
There’s still a bit of snow on the ground, but the tiny snowdrops in my garden are already shyly blooming. The tulips are just starting to poke the tips of their leaves above the ground like a periscope, as if checking to see whether it’s safe to emerge.
“The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.” (Song of Solomon 2:12 NLT)
After a long winter, it makes my heart sing to see the beginnings of spring.
But do the flowers and trees themselves sing? And if they do, what is their song telling us?
The other day I went for walk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Even though the trees were bare of leaves and there was snow on ground, it was still a place of great beauty.
I noticed something strange, however, about the other visitors to the park. I must have passed at least a dozen other people as I walked the winding trail down the ravine to the river, but they were all standing stock-still.
Had I wandered onto a set for some science-fiction movie, in which aliens freeze people in place in advance of taking over the planet? Or had all these people been suddenly afflicted with a disease that left them immobilized?
No, the reason they were standing as motionless as statues was because they were all staring down at their smartphones.
If you live in a cold climate, have you ever woken up to discover that there had been an ice storm overnight? You look outside to find the bare branches of the trees are encased in a thick layer of ice.
The effect can be absolutely stunning. The branches glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. People rush outside to take photos of the ice-covered trees.
But the beauty masks a danger: those bare branches are at risk. They were never meant to carry the weight of so much ice. The branches may break off, and the tree can be left devastated.
Do you ever feel like you’re carrying too much “weight”?