Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: boreal forest

The dying poplar


plane-tree-337780_1280Three native species of poplar grow in Saskatchewan: cottonwood, trembling aspen and balsam poplar. They are fast growing trees that can attain heights of  25 to 30 metres (80 – 100 feet) and a diameter of 100 cm (3 feet) at eye level. The balsam polar is more slender.

Cottonwoods send forth their seeds with tufts of white fluff that form a cottony layer on our lawns each spring. Trembling aspens have flattened leaf stems that allow their leaves to flutter against each other at the slightest breeze. The sap of balsam poplar has a balsam- like scent.

These are trees of the open prairies and boreal forests. Being fast growing trees, they are also short-lived. There is no old growth boreal forest, a 100 year old tree is either a dead tree or a terminally ill tree. Forest fires are nature’s way of renewing the boreal forest, cleaning out the dead trees and the debris from the forest floor and allowing new growth to begin and reach for the sun.

These trees have been widely used in farm shelter belts here in the flatlands, protecting farm yards from the constant prairie winds. But here, as in their natural habitat, they eventually grow old and die. Fires are not a desirable event in a farm yard, so these shelter belts eventually need maintenance. And often don’t get it. The wood from these trees is of little value for lumber, or even for fire wood, providing little incentive to go to all the work needed to remove dead and dying trees. This leads to scenes such as the one I described in my last post.

Several years ago one of these big old poplars could be seen from our dining room window. It was obviously close to the end of its lifespan, one massive branch fell during a summer windstorm. The next spring, most of the branches showed no sign of life, but leaves did appear on a few branches near the top of the tree.

One day, when there was only the slightest breeze, the tree came crashing down. It was easy to understand why when I went to look: the interior of the trunk had rotted until there was not much but bark to hold the tree upright.

I wondered if some Christians might not be like that tree: still upright, showing little signs of spiritual life from the outside, but almost spiritually dead on the inside.

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)



Over the past few days the people of Fort McMurray, Alberta have had an all too close encounter with a fire like the one above. News reports indicate that all the 80,000+ people who live and work there have been able to make their way to safety, leaving their homes, businesses and most of their personal possessions behind and not knowing if anything will be left when the fire is out.

A few environmentalists have been quick to blame this disaster on climate change. Let them talk, a little more hot air isn’t going to make any difference at this point. The truth is that fire has always been nature’s way of rejuvenating the boreal forest. The protective covering of the seeds of coniferous trees can only be opened by the heat of a forest fire.

A fire such as this must be a terrifying experience to live through. But at least all have lived – there have been no reports of deaths so far, and at least one baby was born in the midst of all the confusion. People will soon begin rebuilding their lives, and their city.

Around them, the forest has been scrubbed clean of all old, weak and sickly trees, the accumulated debris on the forest floor is gone. The liberated seeds will sprout and soon a new forest will appear, young and green. This is nature’s way, it has been happening as long as there has been a boreal forest.  Perhaps the way to prevent a massive conflagration like this one would be to conduct periodic controlled burns in small areas at a time, during a season when the woods were not tinder dry.

This fire is a tragedy for the people involved, yet some beautiful memories will linger as people help each other, sometimes risking their own lives to ensure no one is left behind. The people of Fort Mac need our prayers as they start over again and try to build something beautiful from the ashes of their dreams.

The Bible appears to tell us that our belief system needs to be tested by fire from time to time. As long as our faith is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ we will survive the fire. The precious things that have come from God, the gold, silver and precious stones, will not be damaged by the fire. But perhaps, in a time of stress or pain, someone has offered a comforting interpretation of Scripture that is a little off the mark. Or perhaps we have heard some touching stories that we have added to the structure of our belief system. There is much “Christian” literature that mixes truth and misleading imagination.

These things could well be the wood, hay and stubble that our Lord wants to burn out of our lives. Will we let Him? That would leave us with only those things that come from Him, things that are unchanging, things we can depend on to help us make it through our journey.

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you . . . For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Peter 4:12; 17-18).


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