I have pondered forest fires before, but while their purpose still seemed amorphous and vague, the lodgepole pine brings it to a finer point.
Fire strikes me as something made by humans – gathering kindling, matches, striking flint. Campfires and sparks from cars create devastating forest fires. Even if natural, even if lightning strikes, I want to interpret the event as destructive and devastating. Yet there is profound purpose and even a natural need for these fires. Not only can the forest floor once again get the sunlight it needs for plants, such as fireweed, to flourish, old dead trees can be cleared, and perhaps most intriguing, the lodgepole pine can flourish. Fires melt the sappy resin that binds the cones closed. Once melted, the cones can release their seeds, thereby allowing the tree to multiple and thrive — a process that couldn’t happen without fire.
I wonder if we humans aren’t too far off from the lodgepole pine. Fires, those personal and circumstantial, look daunting, uncontrollable, irrational. But are they actually a critical part of not only our lives, but our ability to flourish, multiply, and live out our purpose? Without them, would we just be holed up, stiff, wound up beings sitting around in safety and comfort, believing that in that security, we were living life to its fullest?
This hypothesis doesn’t account for the pain that comes with those fires. It seems an inevitable part of a fire — lives lost, species reduced. But the purpose, the glory is ultimately intended to be farther reaching and longer lasting than the pain, the short-term set-backs or the searing loss.
So we mourn the loss, we acknowledge it, we patch up, repair, and mend. But, as we do, we hold fast to the promise of regeneration, newness, and the mysterious promise of the glory of living into our fullest selves.
We let the heat of the fire, the heat of all the pain be the fuel for our growth. It’s my pain that drives me to write, attempting to see the world with new eyes, express, explore, figure out. Without loss, we wouldn’t be on our knees in a puddle of tears and questions. And our little deposits of stiff sap wouldn’t be required to melt away with the objective of becoming something new or making more good.