The Seven Stones Blog

Lessons From the Lodgepole Pines: Rising from the Ashes, New Life

By Jen Cohen

What is lying at the bottom of the forest floor, waiting patiently for the heat of this time to open it?

Lodgepole pines are prolific in Yellowstone National Park. I happen to know because we spend time in the park almost every winter. At the risk of giving a science lecture, let me tell you this: Lodgepole pinecones are tightly sealed little pods. The seeds are serotinous, meaning there must be an external environmental trigger for them to open. In the case of the lodgepole, that trigger is a forest fire. The cones only open when subjected to extremely high heat. They lie in wait on the forest floor for a fire to burn them open. These pods come to life only in the wake of something else being destroyed. At first pass, it seems like a fire is a terrible destructive force. And it is. Animals die. They lose habitat. There is massive disruption. Yet, something else is also happening—something nascent, something new, something that has been patiently waiting for its time to be born.

This reminds me of a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

This pandemic looks like it will bring a lot of destruction. And it already is. There is no doubt that it’s hot now on planet Earth, and getting hotter, both literally and figuratively. At the same time, if we take the farmer’s point of view, we can start to look at things differently. Families are spending more quality time with each other; long lost friends are reconnecting; people are helping strangers stay safe; light has been shed on the essential service workers who are risking their lives to keep us fed; the earth is getting a chance to breathe without too much human interference; and the list of positives goes on.

So, I wonder, what is lying at the bottom of the forest floor, waiting patiently for the heat of this time to open it? What seed is waiting in you, waiting for enough heat to call you to create a sustainable future.

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