Holden Voices

TRAVIS HOULE: A Lesson From Our Forest

April 13, 2016 at 6:15 PM




The fire had raged. The forest was dead. Nothing but ash, and smoke and the blackened skeletal pillars of the trees that had reigned for a century remained. The ground was scorched with such intensity that even the microbes, and the fungi, and the shrubs, and the deepest roots, and the thickest trunks, had burned and died. 

The squirrels and voles and chipmunks had disappeared. The deer had no shrubs to eat, and left. The stream clouded with mud and ash, causing the fish to swim away. The martins and bears and cougars had no prey to hunt, and wandered on hungry. The bees and beetles and other insects fled, for they had no flowers to pollinate. The birds had no seeds or berries, and flew on to new homes, leaving the forest silent. 

All of the plants that provided, and the species that sustained had disappeared, leaving a desolate and empty expanse. All signs pointed that this forest, had met its end. Bleak seemed the future of this ravaged community. 

But with time, seeds of hope stirred. Out of the ashes came the buds of a new forest. Saplings and grasses and wildflowers of every kind rose from the fertile soil, enriched by the ashes from the forest before it. A multitude of insects sprung forth, pollinating the petals that had come from the ground. Shrubs grew and produced rich foliage, berries, and seeds, providing food for deer, bear, and birds. The streams ran clear again, filled with a myriad of aquatic species. The critters of the forest returned, to be chased again by martins and cougars. 

As each species rejoined the throng, the forest was reminded of how important even the most humble of organisms were. The fungi and the microbes and the moss and the lichens, forgotten and unappreciated before, worked hardest of all, turning ash and waste into vital nutrients, feeding the forest from the ground up. The insects buzzed diligently, their hands making fertile the seeds that would grow the forest again. And the forest did grow again. As seasons passed, and the years began to turn, the trees rose, returning the forest to its might. All was restored back to the way it was, yet, so very different. 

The old forest, though mighty, had been fit for a few, a paradigm of growth that was exclusive, stuck in its identity. Only select species of old growth had come to dominate that forest, crowding out those less fit, less capable, different than their own, stealing their light. What had appeared brilliant before seemed dull and monotonous in comparison to the diversity of species that comprised the forest now. 

Where once a few prevailing species dominating the canopy, there now stood dozens, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, their own special talents. Some trees had thicker trunks, and could resist the fires that would come in seasons ahead. Others had deep roots that could soak up what little water would come in times of drought.  A few had cold hardy needles and veins, and could thrive in the harsh winters the mountains would bring. Many species did not spread their branches quite as far as those before, allowing younger and weaker trees and shrubs to rise up to new heights. Together, this new and diverse forest would be able to endure an increasing multitude of disturbances and challenges, continuing to house and feed the creatures that called their branches and shade home. 

In this new forest, each tree and each critter and each bird and each flower and each fungi and even the smallest of bacteria were given a new chance to grow and feed each other a little bit more. The members of this new enterprise, better sharing the resources they had, allowing each individual its niche, offering their diverse gifts, grew stronger together, not alone. The forest was still a forest, yet, it was more vibrant, more diverse, more resilient, more cooperative, more… of a community. 

Holden is in a place not far from where this new forest began. As fire after fire has raged through this community over the fast few years, how are we to respond? Unlike the forest, we have the ability to influence our future course consciously, and quickly. As a group of individuals, each and every one of us has the opportunity to take the lessons of the forest around us, and apply them to our own community. But will we?  

Will we do the same?  

Will we, as a supposedly Christian community, live by one of Jesus’s greatest commandments, and love our neighbor’s as ourselves? 

As new individuals return to this forest, Will we define neighbor, only as one who works on the same side of a creek as us? Or will we welcome them with due hospitality? 

Will we truly offer ourselves to one another in mutual forgiveness, conversation, and respect?  

In a nation whose politicians perpetuate anger, hate, and bigotry, will we create a place apart, where acceptance, understanding, and solidarity with one another is the norm? 

Will we celebrate the gifts of one another? Will we create a space where the diversity of skills, views, and backgrounds, which exist right here in our own village, can grow and be welcomed?  

While the challenges of our world multiply, will we prepare our community to be resilient through adversity, and accepting of change? 

What defines the Holden community now?

What do we hope our community will be? 

How will we get there? 

What is our vision for this community?