A Burn Under Control

Oh, lovely springtime, what is so fair! But…

So many things show up once the snow is gone. We have a lovely, tree-filled yard, which means we need to walk around before mowing the lawn and gather up odd branches the wind has brought down. Some trash often drifts in and catches in the tall grass, too.

A controlled burn can be a very useful tool to clean up all this debris. This spring, however, our RM has put on a burning ban because of dry conditions. We heard in the news a few weeks ago how one town in Sask suffered loss when a “controlled burn” got away and consumed half a dozen homes. (Thankfully most of these were unoccupied.)

Last night when I went out for a walk the air was hazy in spite of a strong wind and I caught a faint whiff of wood smoke. Sure enough, a look online shows a forest fire raging out of control in the northern part of the province. It’s hard to picture any benefit coming from an inferno like that, yet scientists say an old forest needs a good fire. It does for the forest what a clean-up fire does for our yard: gives the land a chance to rid itself of dead wood and breathe again; lets the forest get a new start. Otherwise there comes a time when a forest chokes itself.

Between our yard and our neighbours, there’s an “old” woods. The original trees, planted a hundred years back by the first settlers, are dead and ready to fall down. A lot of new growth has sprung up since, but so many young trees are twisted or crushed when their elders drop thick branches on them. And when those big old trunks hit the earth, it takes many years for them to decompose.

It would be so beneficial if a fire could sweep through and consume all the dead wood, but leave the living. And more importantly, leave our and our neighbours’ homes intact! Since we know that isn’t going to happen, both of us couples hope and pray no lightening strike or careless cigarette starts our woods on fire. There’s so much ready fuel, none of us could control the damage.

The Bible talks a lot about fire, both in a destructive sense, where God destroys the enemy as if by fire, and in a purifying or enlightening sense.

“Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.”
Deuteronomy 4:36

Thoughts of God’s fire tends to scare me, though, because it’s not a thing I can control. I can’t tell him, “Yes, I’d like to get rid of this bit of attitude, burn this fault out of my life, but leave the rest of my habits alone.” He sees all the trash that needs to go, not just the little bit that’s causing me embarrassment. He sees all the dead wood in the heart of the forest, not just the bit I can spot from where I stand.

Though we can’t govern what God’s fire will consume in our lives, the good news is, HE can. He may select trash (like bad attitudes) that needs to burn out of our lives, but our God is merciful. He leaves all the good wood to keep on growing. He may burn the wood, hay, and stubble, but he leaves the silver and gold.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12: 28-29

In every life some matches will fall. Trials come to those who believe in God and those who don’t, to those who choose to live a Christian life and those who don’t. Living in this world along with other human beings guarantees that flames will pop up from one source or another. Unkind words or discrimination may burn, health or financial woes may flare up.

These troubles aren’t always the result of a direct action on God’s part, sent because we have need of major refinement. But God can use any fire to purify us. If we give our lives into his keeping, He can control any burning so that it doesn’t damage us beyond hope of restoration.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour…” Isaiah 43:2-3

Arms of Support

Trees

In every path of timber you
will always find a tree or two
that would have fallen long ago,
borne down by wind or age or snow,
had not another neighbor tree
held outs its arms in sympathy
and caught the tree that the storm had hurled
to earth. So, neighbors, is the world.

In every patch of timber stand
Samaritans of forest land:
the birch, the maple, oak and pine,
the fir the cedar, all in line.
In every wood, unseen, unknown,
they bear the burdens of their own
and bear as well another form,
some neighbor stricken in the storm.

Shall tree be nobler to their kind
than men, who boast the noble mind?
Shall there exist within the wood
this great eternal brotherhood
of oak and pine, of hill and fen,
and not within the hearts of men?
God grant that men are like to these,
and brothers, brotherly as trees.

Author unknown to me

Clearing the Land

My Uncle Fred (Dad F) sold his farm back about 1958. This was the original home place, the farm he’d inherited from his father, Thomas Forsyth. He did, however, retain one quarter section —160 acres — a couple of miles south of the farm; this was rented to neighbours as pasture.

After Bob and I were married, I longed to make a “sentimental journey” back to Pathlow, where I spent the first four years of my life and visited many times after. Dad mentioned this land he still owned so we made a stop there to have a look around.

We parked our car by the side of the road, got out and looked around. Tall grass grew in a small area — this would be where the renter pastured his cattle — but most of the quarter was covered with native poplar bush. A spindly tree every meter.

We’d driven up on gravel roads, past miles of fertile fields, but my mind went back to the original settlers, who’d maybe got off the train at Melfort, seventeen miles NE, to outfit themselves and begin the search for their land claim. For those who came later a road of sorts had been made through the bush, but the first homesteaders would have wandered in the woods or followed creek banks until they came to the part that matched the land description in their hands.

And there they stood. Maybe with a backpack containing some food and another sack holding their tiny tent and a blanket. Likely they’d bought an axe, hanging from their belt. Now go for it. Start chopping, clear this land, build a farm.

Back around 1908 Thomas Forsyth, born in Glasgow, Scotland and a coal miner heretofore, carved his farm out of bush just like this. He called it Hillside Farm because the house and buildings were built on a rolling upward slope. My great-grand and grandfather Vance would have faced a similar situation when they arrived at Spy Hill, SK. A few farms had been wrested from the bush, but most of the land was forest, except where creeks meandered through it.

Thankfully clearing the land wasn’t the daunting prospect our forefathers faced when they landed in Oxford County. Our grandfather Allen didn’t face chopping down maple trees a meter thick such as great-grandfather Sam felled when he moved up to the Listowell area. Old timers in Ontario talked of a time when you could travel the trail from Kitchener to Sarnia without ever seeing the sun because there was such a dense canopy of spreading maple branches overhead. Can you imagine launching into those woods with an axe?

Today we see fields of waving grain all over Saskatchewan — because those who came first were willing to start swinging that axe.

Originally posted on the Vance-Turner Connect blog – March 2014