Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate.
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
A new tradition has recently transpired for us on Labor Day weekend. It’s nothing new for us to enjoy the company of family and friends at our up north home, walking, talking, wining, dining. But for the last few years we have also begun puzzling.
Three years ago we started modestly with a 550 piece puzzle and quickly accelerated the last two years to 1,000 pieces. Each year we have managed to finish the puzzle in three days. It is no small feat, but as the proverb goes, many hands make light work.
A collective buzz surrounds the puzzle table in the evenings, while we make the occasional concerted effort in the daytime. If the weather is nice, we’re more likely to be found in the woods, on the lake or in the hammock. After a s’more by the evening fire, it’s puzzle time.
The first year, my mom brought a puzzle of rocks in the shape of Michigan which she had garnered from a silent auction at a pregnancy care center fundraiser. It now hangs framed on the wall in our cabin.
The last two years we've conquered some high-quality Ravensburger puzzles gifted from a friend. Last year’s was cool, but not frame-worthy. This year's will definitely make the wall--it’s a whimsical artistic rendering of our U.S. National Parks.
As we puzzled, we learned about each other. My sister, an excellent planner and manager, takes charge and sees the big picture. I tend to micromanage, focusing on the minutia. I had trouble falling asleep the first night thanks to the last elusive piece in the bottom left section of America’s largest national park, Wrangell St. Elias—which is one of Alaska’s eight national parks!
Puzzles are a great group project. As this one came together, the more reluctant puzzlers found themselves drawn into the action, casually sliding up to the table then getting sucked in. Various styles of exclamation punctuated the chatter: “Darn”, “Sweet”, or my favorites, “BANG!” and “BAM!” When a particularly tricky piece was placed, some of us would do a little dance or run outside and ring the large cast iron dinner bell.
Last year, our son Aaron and his dad had a showdown, both sneakily holding back what each thought would be the last piece. After the brief standoff, Scott won. We all had a good laugh. This year, Bella had the honor after finding the last piece, which had fallen on the floor. Or, had it? 🤔😉
We learned about parks that we never knew existed. Like Congaree in central South Carolina. Ever heard of that one? My sweet nine-year-old nephew was fixated on finding the piece with the “alligator butt” on the southwest corner of Congaree. A day later, when he finally came up with it, no fewer than three family members accused him of having held it back, which he adamantly denied. (We believe you Ashton!)
Our Paris, Michigan getaway is located within the Huron-Manistee National Forests. We are blessed to be stewards of 200 of the 538,756 acres of land within the western portion that stretches across 40 miles of longitude and along 70 miles of latitude. It is populated with many beautiful trees: oak, pine, beech, birch and maple to name a few.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, "The land that is now Michigan was once an unbroken forest, inhabited by numerous Native American tribes. After European settlement of the area, logging and farming became the main forms of occupation. Land that became the forests was heavily logged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Manistee National Forest was established in 1938. The name comes from a Native American word meaning, 'the whispering through the pines’.”
Anyone who has ever stood quietly in the midst of a pine forest knows the beauty of this solemn and gentle sound. Glance up, close your eyes, breathe in deeply. Can you hear it? Smell it? Hold it. Exhale.
“Our” pines—they are really His pines, as we are just passing through—are one of the most peaceful places I have ever enjoyed. So even though I knew it was going to happen, when it did, I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed.
The last Friday in August the loggers arrived.
I walked into the freshly cut forest, 30 yards from the mammoth tree-felling machine as it sawed away.
I am the Lorax, I imagined, I speak for the trees. But I didn’t. I didn’t fuss or fight. I know that if we don’t harvest these red and Austrian pine, they will soon die naturally. Seventy years ago, they were planted for this purpose.
Still, I touched the inner rings of a downed tree and said thank you. I’m sentimental, I apologized too. And even though I was in the midst of the trees, anthropomorphizing them, I was speaking to the Creator.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of trees, beautiful, seed-bearing, oxygenating vegetation. Coniferous. Deciduous. Deciduous conifers. (I just learned about this third category.) Amazing and many amazingly delicious—think peach, apple, cherry and pear. Roots, trunk, branches, leaves, needles, flower, fruit.
It was sad to hear the whirring blade of this incredibly high-tech logging contraption in the same pines where a decade ago our children built forts over ancient needles in the "Moss Kingdom". Would a low-tech lumberjack with an axe have elicited the same feeling? Probably not. There was something creepily sci-fi about the appearance, speed and efficiency of the machine.
I could have stayed in the cabin or taken a trail away from the noise, but I was compelled to watch. I was less of a voyeur and more a witness, navigating piles of horizontal logs so that I could better appreciate the deep sacrifice of this harvest.
If I had to kill an animal myself in order to eat meat, I think I would become a vegetarian. If I had to cut down a tree so I could create a jigsaw puzzle, I would stop puzzling. And I suppose I would use leaves to wipe my bum. So I’m thankful others raise livestock and harvest trees.
But as I stood in the forest, listened, watched and prayed, I was filled with deep gratitude to God for trees and all that they've provided me--in addition to beauty, shade and oxygen: the letters my mother has written me, the letters I have written my children, love letters from my husband, notes and drawings from our children. Toilet paper. Books. Amazon boxes. Puzzles. The surface upon which Messiah died in my stead 2,000 years ago.
The Austrian pine will be used for pulp, for all manner of paper products. The red pine will be turned into fence posts and poles for electrical lines, things I take for granted every day.
Legend has it that a sawmill once stood on the northeast shore of our little lake in the Manistee Forest. We can see the evidence, sawdust mixed with sand on the floor and shore of the lake. Trees of those days were old growth, enormous hardwoods. A couple of their skeleton trunks dot our property, remnants of bygone days.
The cycle continues. We will replant for our great-grandchildren to enjoy the same natural resources. We trust these future trees will watch them build impenetrable fortresses and battle imaginary beasts. We hope our progeny will pause long enough to hear the pines whisper and praise their Creator.
Best Summer Read
Reforesting Faith by Matthew Sleeth is an excellent book. This former emergency room physician-turned-environmentalist has written a fabulous narrative detailing the centrality of trees to life. Science and theology combine for a thought-provoking and delightful read. I highly recommend it! Also, check out his website blessedearth.com.
from Matthew Sleeth:
"The human body runs on oxygen and the energy stores in carbon bonds. That’s how our bodies work. The human soul was built to run on communion with God. That’s how our souls work."
"I think the big surprise for me is how far from the Bible the Church is today, [to the point where it’s] subtracting trees from the text. Some words I counted up in the Bible—tree, seed, leaf, branch, root and fruit—occurred 967 times in the King James Bible, but in the ESV they’ve been subtracted 230 times and in the NIV translation, 267. Our Bible translators have literally taken these words out of scripture."
"There is a link between poverty and trees. If you take the most deforested country in the Western hemisphere—Haiti—it also happens to be the poorest. If you take the second-most deforested country in the Western hemisphere—Honduras—it happens to be the second poorest. I think we need to help those around the world who cannot afford to plant trees, and we need to take care of our own trees."
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. ~Romans 1:20
Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries, And daub their natural faces unaware More and more, from the first similitude. From Seventh Book from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)