I remember growing up my mother coming home from a day in the prairie, (her summer job that year was to find and count different species of bees in the prairies of Fermi national laboratories in Batavia, IL) so excited about this brown burry thing. She set it on the table and began to tell its story.
She said; “this is from the Burr Oak tree, one of the most beautiful trees in the prairie. From this will grow one of the biggest and strongest trees you will find in the prairie.” To which I gave the typical bored teen age, cool and began to walk away to find something, no, anything else to do! As I turned, she began to attempt to saw it open; watching my mother saw was amusement enough as the thing kept rolling away. Finally, after a lot of work, she exposed the nut. Interestingly, her fascination was not the nut but the casing. She said “The Burr Oak is fascinating because in order for the seed to germinate it needs fire, a really hot fire! Something happens chemically when the casing of the seed is burned that ‘wakes up’ the seed. It is really amazing.”
Initially, I was not that interested, but as with all new information, something did not quite make sense. Fire was bad; I had been taught its dangers. While I knew it for utilitarian purposes, the image of a large fire always brought pictures of destruction and devastation. I began researching and realized that fires were naturally-occurring phenomena, on the prairies in the Midwest many of the native flowers and of course trees, like the Burr Oak, required fire to germinate. The fires were caused by lightening and before large settlements were a fairly common occurrence.
Through the years, I have thought about the Burr Oak and how God uses something that we consider to be bad the make something that can be really awesome!
In California, we are no strangers to fire; right now the barely controlled fire in Yosemite is taking out beautiful trees and threatens life in the forest, as we know it. This really bothers us because we have concerns for what is there, for the people and homes, the memories of trees and other scenic points. In fact, one of the scariest things about fire is that it forces a change that we usually do not want, and often requires us to start fresh.
Every year, my parents spend a few weeks in Colorado. In one of their recent trips, my mother took pictures of the cabin that we would rent when I was young. Once surrounded by trees, it looked naked! Interestingly, she said, even soon after the fires, she saw the signs of new life. Soon the Aspens will come out and grow to give shade to the pines which will eventually overtake them until the next avalanche or fire will start things fresh once more. It is the cycle of God’s creation and re-creation.
On one hand we can, and do, see only negative when we think of things like forest fires, and while they are not good, often as many scientists would say that what you often get out of a good forest fire is a stronger and healthier forest, in the long run. When we come to the moments in our lives when we struggle with our own fires, we can turn and embrace the new reality that is placed before us. Often when we do that we become stronger and healthier than we ever were before.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen