Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Landscape

There is a trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park that we have hiked together two or three times. The Orphan Lake Trail is not our favourite. But is has its rewards. The lake in the middle of it is quiet and green, and the stone beach of the great inland sea is as close to primordial as I have known.  But it is a lot of work, and has none of the panoramas of other, equally-demanding trails.

There is a part of the Orphan Lake Trail that had, a decade or so ago, a forest fire. There are no large trees in that part of the forest. If you are in the lumber business, this is not what you would call a profit centre.  There is something there, though, in July, something lovely and rare - wild blueberries.  You won't find them in the forest, but you can find them where the forest used to be.

If you are in the lumber business, the blueberries might not make much of an impression on you. But if you are just noticing what's there, they are a delight, a kind of grace in the course of a sometimes grueling (beautiful) walk.

I have been working in the church in one way or another for thirty-five years. And for thirty-five years we've been thinking of ourselves more and more as a failing lumber business. The part of the ecosystem entrusted to our attention seems to have fewer and fewer trees. As we try to make sense of that reality, it's pretty easy to dream up a scenario in which the deforestation is all our fault. And to be sure, we can find evidence of lost opportunities and poor forest stewardship.  We can find, also, places where there is still enough lumber to be in business. 

But sometimes forests burn. Sometimes ecosystems transform. Sometimes there is that uncomfortable meantime during which it is at best uncertain what business we are in in this landscape. It's called the mean-time for a reason.  It can be a time for us to focus on the mean-ness, the scarcity, of the trees that used to be here in the forest that is no more. It can make us mean, too, as we turn our attention to the absurd but somehow compelling question of who has dibs on the last few trees.

I wonder if the Holy One has something else in mind. I wonder if the absence of trees is meant to be more important than the abundance of blueberries. I wonder what we might find in this landscape if we were to seek out what new thing has wondrously appeared, not instead of lamenting (because lament we must) but perhaps in addition to lamenting, how much we miss the lumber business.

It is not easy to like the absence of lumber. But it is possible to love the berries.