Archive for July, 2015

A Beautiful Burn – Beauty for Ashes

Cambell Highway Burn (4)

Tall black charcoal remains of old Black Spruce spear the sky across hectares of land as I drive the Klondike Highway in the northern parts of the Yukon surrounding the great Fox Lake.  In 1998 this stretch was ablaze and 45,000 hectares of land was roasted by the firestorm. Pretty incredible. Driving past I can see the tall black timbers standing motionless as far as the eyes can see, weaving through valley and mount seemingly endless across the region.  It’s truly an incredible sight. Never again will the thick forest be the same, or return to its former glory. The entire Fox Lake region is scarred by its past and there’s no near effort that can aid in hiding the injury.

For me it’s all new. Having only lived here coming up on two years now, these blackened forests and ash laden floors are all a wonder to me.  True Yukoners on the other hand seem accustomed to seeing the charcoal woodlands covering the region as part of the natural cycle.  The summer before I arrived in the Yukon, just north of my small village of Carmacks was a grand old forest fire that decimated thousands of hectares of land just off the Robert Campbell highway. I arrived in January but as spring and summer rolled in I noticed the strangest thing.  This little town of 400 had blown up to 1000+ in population. But it wasn’t highway tourists and trailering families that filled the town. It was blackened-faced backpack-wearing entrepreneurs in old broken down cars.  They came in droves to little old Carmacks and filled the stores with ash. These people had come from across the country to roam the forest floor looking for edible gold.  Morales.

In the aftermath of such a great disaster came the strangest reward.  Through the ash popped up millions of Morale mushrooms ripe for the picking.  Hundreds if not more came to comb the burned out forest for these small treasures. Small business stands were set up to buy them and dry them to be shipped overseas and across the country to top tier restaurants for premium dollars.  An entire economy was created as a result of the deep burn of the forest.  Camps were set up, buyers and drivers, pickers and dryers.  Countless rewards for thousands of pallets, earned at the sullied fingertips of hippie entrepreneurs as they scavenged the blacken forest for their pearls.  Then, like a strong wind had carried them all away, with the forest picked clean they were all gone.  Tents, backpacks, hitchhiker thumbs, dreadlocks, bandanas, and white shirts turned black all disappeared in a matter of a week.

Cambell Highway Burn (1)

It’s wild from the outside looking in. In the face of this great disaster comes the strangest reward. But today that forest, only two summers from its burn remains nothing more than a fire pit across thousands of acres. But I know there’s more to the story.   Every time I take my 2 hour journey to get groceries, go to church, see a movie, or visit friends I’m reminded that there is so much more for the future of that burn as I pass the Fox Lake Burn of 1998.

After years of darkness and death, slowly new green life begins to emerge from the ashes.  The once black covered floor begins an entire new chapter of various greens and purples, whites and yellows as flowers and grasses, trees and shrubs hesitantly surface from their hiding. New growth, new life.  Never again will that forest be the same as it once was, but we can now begin to see some of what it may become. It’ll be unlike any other forest, it’ll show its painful past and begin to nurture something new and fresh all at the same time. Beauty exchanged for ashes. Now, for me, Fox Lake stands out amongst the rest. Tested and torched, littered with new growth, it has become a beautiful collection of old and new, defined by its darkness but beautiful because of its scars and emerging life.

Bob Dylan once was quoted saying ““Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” There’s no question that pain, while in the moment leaves us desperate for escape, changes us completely and almost always for the greater. There should be no insinuation that time will eliminate our bruises and scars from the past.  The idea that ‘Time heals all wounds’ I would say is closer to fiction than it is to reality.  While with time we may find the wisdom to define and assess our pain from a better, healthier, and stronger position, the scars remain and most often we are better for them.

Cambell Highway Burn (7)

For better or worse, our scars define us, and more than that, they help move us forward. In the book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis once said “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself”.  From our pain comes new life, new growth, economy, relationships, wisdom, understanding, appreciation, paths, and dependency.  Life emerges from the ashes.

Part of the natural cycle of the Fox Lake Forest is to experience a deep burn.  Whether it’s once in a life time, or every other decade, a painful scorching was part of its life cycle.  Out of that process and with time comes new life.   New life that is affected and changed by the burns of it’s past.  Those tall blackened, scalded trees remain as a witness to the past, while the fresh blossoming greens arise as a testament to the future.

Our pain, our mistakes, our bruises and our scars are now and forever a part of everything we are. They shape us, challenge us, remind us and push us forward. Don’t deny the burns of the past, just embrace them for their beauty today.

There are many who don’t see this the same way, many that don’t see that there is a natural reaction to the world around us that causes pain, or that causes burns.  Many people would argue that if there was a God, if He was real then the forest would never burn.  A real God, a loving God wouldn’t and couldn’t allow the results of the fire to roast this life to ashes.  Without realizing what true love is, they assume that God has either abandoned us, hates us, or simply never existed.  We see the forest fire raging and we shutter at the damage but we refuse to consider the purpose and the cause.  We see a world riddled with sin and darkness and wonder where the plan is in it all without truly searching for answers.

fox lake burnI can’t pretend to have it all understood.  I can’t pretend that I’m satisfied with all the burns of my past, or those close to me who are standing in the fire in the present.  I can list the pains I wished were swept away with a good rainfall.  I could list the embers of today that I wish didn’t exist at all and that I spend hours in prayer begging them to go away.  But then I look over my shoulder and more often than not thank God for the fire.  There’s an old song I sang growing up in my youth called ‘Refiners Fire’.   It’s based on the idea that God uses a fire to refine us like precious metals (Malachi 3:3).  Once pulled from the dirt, unshaped and unclean God takes that brokenness and brings us to the fire.  He works with us, holds us, molds us and takes our flaws and carefully, over time and sometimes through fire He refines us to something as precious as pure gold.

It’s a stretch for some isn’t it?  If God was so great, we wonder, then why the need for the fire, why the need for refining.  Well a lot of that is on us.  There’s another half to the story.  The fact that we live in a broken sinful, God resistant world plays a big part. The fact that we ignore His design, reject His plan, discard His purpose, throwaway His Word plays a large part in our story. The beauty of God’s true love for us, is that He gave us the freedom to choose it. We can reject Him and His purpose for us, and feel the natural fire of consequence. God warns us to not lie, cheat, steal, lust etc. and if we ignore that then we are the only ones responsible for the consequences.

In the Fox Lake BurnHowever there’s redemption to be found. There’s unlimited grace, and never ending forgiveness offered when we simply accept Jesus. The scars will remain and temporary penalties for sin will likely persist, but eternal consequences have already been paid for, and when we accept that forgiveness we are truly free, and we are saved from the ruin of this world and ourselves.

We are both product of a sinful and dying world, and we are being refined by the fire. Both apply, both affect us daily. Embrace the lessons and the challenges of our refining that will steer us towards our Creator.  Accept the forgiveness for our broken failing state and find true freedom in the cross of Christ, and look back at our forest and be thankful for the burns that refine us.