Sunday, June 20, 2010

Burn and Regrowth Reprise

Gazing up at the, now, colorless landscape that marks the burn areas of the Santa Barbara front country, I became aware that I was experiencing the contrast of old and new much differently this morning than when I wrote about it before. Spring has departed, and the rains have ceased. The warmth of the summer sun has dried out the landscape and the new growth is dying. The foreground of the foothills that caught my attention with its vibrant green only weeks ago has reverted, more or less, back to a scar of lifeless brown.

My new experience with the landscape actually started a couple of weeks ago during a hike up Rattlesnake Canyon. I had a sense of the growth metaphor again, but found it more discouraging this time under the canopy of blackened branches.

We rested at the point on the trail when we reached the fire damage. Mangled and wretched branches of blackened oak, eucalyptus, and manzanita reached out lifelessly to the sky above. But, at our feet, lay a brilliant blanket of green amidst an array of multi-colored flowers. I tried to focus on that green, ever-so-slowly invading the gray. But those trees still dominated that landscape. In the slight breeze the branches rubbed against each other with a shrilling sound like nails on a chalkboard. The ground cover showed no sign of feeling the affects of the wind. It was almost as if the green was visible, yet still separate from the elements the dead trees faced.

As I moved forward on the trail, my eyes and ears fixed on those branches, I became overwhelmed with the sensation that I was taking a journey through my own heart. The metaphor became so real I was eerily convinced that this is what I must look like from the inside. Ravaged by fire, cleared out, with a hint of brilliant regrowth and renewal eager to outgrow the deadness that continues to stand tall and firm. Every element - every experience or emotion - hits the blackness first because it continues to tower over the regrowth. It is still preventing the newness from absorbing and experiencing the fullness of life.

As I physically wandered amongst those trees, I became almost enraged. Suddenly, I was desperate to knock them down, force the hand of nature to completely destroy any evidence of fire. How long, I wondered, until these trees finally give way? Fall to the ground? Decompose and become food to the new life below? Years, I suppose. And that thought is discouraging to my impatient self who desperately longs for all memory of destruction to just disappear.

If the sight of renewal filled me with hope, how am I to react to witnessing its death - the landscape once again dominated by evidence of the burn? I find myself resentful, feeling as though I have been robbed of the metaphor that brought me so much hope. I have a very linear relationship with growth and hope and burn and grief. Is my relationship with the ebb and flow of life supposed to be more dynamic than that? How does one learn to shake off disappointment in the ebb, and does it mean we should also not be quick to feel the joy of the flow?

"...The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away..." (Job 1:20). Pardon my french, but what the hell is that about anyway? Why give and then take? How can that even be remotely connected to a kind, just and loving God? Is there a message here to heed, and am I completely missing the boat?

Or is it actually o.k. that I am disappointed? Is it possible that my hope was a gift for a time and a season and my disappointment is the gift for this time and this season to be taken in and pondered?

What I do know is that the regrowth is engaging in a dance with the dead. Slowly, yet intentionally, the new roots will strengthen. As they grow stronger, they will begin to suffocate the roots of old. Regardless of the time it will take, the fate of those dead trees is inevitably clear. They will all come tumbling down. One by one. As long as there is a will to regrow, they must fall down to make room for that renewal.

And, I suspect my disappointment is just something new to sit with and examine...an equal opportunity to the hope, grief, joy, and ambivalence I have experienced in this growth-journey. I cannot help but judge circumstances in my humanity, because emotions are a key component of being human. But I can accept the emotions themselves are all cumulative pieces to the wholeness I seek. And, in that realization, hope remains.

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