Hiking is something I’ve always enjoyed. The fresh scent of pine trees, the stark contrast of a million shades of green against a backdrop of bright blue, and diverse landscapes all entice me to keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other just to discover what lies around the next bend.
I don’t know how many paths I’ve walked down, but I can tell you not one of them is the same. Each trail offers a newness, a freshness that is soothing to the soul. New streams, new rock formations, new meadows surrounded by tall pine trees reaching to the sky.
This past weekend I went hiking with my wife, my 3 kids, and some good friends. We found ourselves on a trail where last year’s fires had left their mark. But not in the way most people think. When people hear a forest has been burned by fire, they often picture a landscape of dirt, rock, and charcoal; little to nothing left behind in the wake of intense flames. While this does happen, the majority of forest fires burn in a much different way. They take the path of least resistance cleaning out the dead and unhealthy parts of the forest. This was the case of our trail. Stands of trees, bordered by patches of black, could be seen everywhere I looked. Paths of ash snaked their way between healthy trees, meadows, and along fast-moving streams.
A mixture of healthy and dead.
But that’s not accurate; it was more a mixture of old and new. Old life burned away so that new life could spring forth. The healthiest of the trees left to continue growing, and foundations for forest life left intact: a source of water, nutrient-filled soil, and the sunlight that brings forth all life.
I stood on the trail and looked down on a stream that meandered in between thriving pine trees and charred stumps and couldn’t help but think about the implications. The area where I stood has faced a number of forest fires with the most recent being less than 2 years ago, and yet it is thriving. New shoots of soon to be towering pines have already started populating the burned areas. Tiny trees made possible because of the fire.
Some pine cones don’t open unless under intense heat. The seeds for new trees remain locked away inside the cone until a fire comes along to release them. The hard seasons of our lives are a lot like forest fires, and our growth, our ability to continue to thrive is trapped inside us like the seeds of those pine cones.
I’ve had many struggles in my life… we all have, and sometimes the seasons of life filled with the intense flames are the very thing we need to destroy the growth that isn’t doing us a whole lot of good. The strong and grounded ideas and philosophies remain like the towering pines, but the stuff that is holding us back from growing into something new is burned away. It can be painful, it can be scary, it can be so very dark and sometimes lonely… but it is only in these periods of fire that our seeds for new growth can be unlocked.
Sometimes the hard parts of life are like the forest fires that leave nothing in their wake, leaving little to pick up and rebuild with. But the majority are opportunities for us to learn, grow, let the unhealthy parts of our lives die, and find life in the new things we discover about ourselves.
I’m writing today as a bit of self-reflection. There are some lessons I am still in the midst of learning and others are yet to come, but I can look back on every trial my life has encountered and say, “That fire was good for my soul.”