Holden Voices

ELLEN GUISFREDI: Creation Endures

October 07, 2015 at 9:11 AM

I don’t like the theme “Creation Waits.” The entire passage seems to be focused on the hope and promise of eternal life—“we ourselves…blahlahlah… groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies,” which is fine…

But the theme “creation waits” makes it sound as though creation—in the sense of nature and landscapes and wildlife—is stagnant, merely standing still and waiting. In reality, the natural environment is constantly shifting and responding and reacting to whatever is happening to it.

Defining a natural cycle or process as “waiting” anthropomorphizes nature. We see the environment as human-centered, defining it in ways that we define ourselves. But people are merely one link in a vast system of growth and death. Natural processes do not “wait” in the sense that they consciously delay an action, but rather they unfold in physical reactions on their own time scale. As they are progressing, they constantly change and morph and evolve.

In this sense, creation is constantly occurring. After the pods of lodgepole pine tree fall, they are not merely waiting until suddenly springing forth into a new tree after a fire—they fall, they become part of the evolving landscape of the forest floor, they eventually may decay or if a fire does burn through, they may crack open. However and whatever happens, they are continuously part of life, part of creation.

And all this occurs regardless of us—people. The creation of a child isn’t waiting—the child is in the process of growing and developing; it is the mother who waits. We may wait for the new lodgepole pine to grow, but the forest isn’t. It continues on—seeding, absorbing, predating, growing, decaying, blooming. Creation endures.

As humans, we often view things from our own perspective, but living landscapes exist with and without us. I think the term “wilderness” is very apt here. We throw around this word a lot, particularly considering we live one mile from a federally designated wilderness area. At the base of “wilderness” is the word “wild.” I don’t know Latin, but from what I understand, “wild” has Latin origins that mean “a lack of control.” Nature—the natural environment, creation—is wild, it is out of our control. We do not run nature. We do not operate it. It does not exist solely because of us. We can affect it, yes, definitely, but we are not in control of it.

And when we try to control it, it has its own way of reverting itself toward a new kind balance and new kind of creation. The obvious example here is the way in which the Forest Service and the rest of the U.S. tried to “control” fire 50–70 years ago. Nature reverts itself with a vengeance, as we are just starting to find out. According to a recent National Geographic article, for the past ten years the U.S. has averaged 10 “mega-fires” a year—these are intensely-burning stand-replacement fires of over 100,000 acres. This is way more than what wildland firefighters used to contend with. The landscapes are responding to layers of factors from over multiple decades—unburned slopes, beetle kill, drier temperatures. Creation renews itself. And takes its time.

Up until now, I have talked about creation as synonymous with natural life. But “creation” is a concept that can also be performed by humans. Some synonyms of creation are formation, design, construction, foundation. These words suggest that the work across the creek as well as our own work of renewal are part of “creation.” We—the people in this valley—constructed a barrier wall, we are forming a landscape conducive to reseeding, we are designing a new footbridge, we are creating systems that make it possible for us to live here. And these types of creation have more distinct start and end dates. Human creations being formed in human time.

So perhaps it is fitting that this type of creation—human-driven creation—had to wait this summer for the awesome power of wild creation to work through one of its more formidable, large-scale processes. And for some of the next set of processes—such as those that will occur with the event of heavy rains or snow—we are still waiting.

I worked in southeast Alaska this past summer as a wilderness ranger on a kayaking crew. It was awesome—beautiful, great people, great work. Everything we did was dependent on conditions outside of our control. We lived and worked out of our sea kayaks for 9 days at a time, and what we were physically able to do was determined by the weather, tides, and current. We chose work and camp sites based on weather and exposure. Many places along the fjord walls we were not able to land, or only at a certain tides, and then we would have to make sure we could launch again. Once when it was forecast to get really bad, we caught a ride on an outbound tour boat to make it back to our base camp—doing shipboard education while aboard, of course.

So I became really cognizant of the natural environment. Our work waited for natural creation. If the current and wind made it unsafe to travel on the water, we’d wait. If there was 2 hours until slack tide and the water crossing the bar was white-capping, we’d wait. I indulged a lot in patience this summer, but also in wonder at my surroundings and in being part of my surroundings—wonder, and awe, and humility.

So perhaps the theme isn’t so bad after all. Natural creation isn’t waiting—it’s going through its process in its own functional time. We, as an expectant people, are the ones truly waiting. Human creation is constrained by natural creation. Creation waits… for creation.