50,000 Seeds: How Destruction Regenerates Your Life

We all know when we’re in the middle of a fire.

I’m not talking about the wood-burning kind made up of super-hot flames. I’m talking about the kind of fire that rages on the inside, an emotional fire, the kind that leads some people to anger and others to depression. The kind of fire that leaves you second-guessing your purpose, or your current direction. Or maybe it’s a fire that feels like it’s destroying your life through loss or disappointment or failure.

Sometimes it smoulders. Sometimes it blazes through in a flash.

I can always tell when I’m in the middle of one of these fires because I start to do things that are completely unlike me. Things like getting angry at a Best Western customer service person because they told me the wrong price. Things like wanting to ram my Mac down the Mac store person’s throat because the only reason I bought AppleCare was because the woman who sold me the computer implied that it covered accidental damage. It doesn’t cover accidental damage and now I’m looking at $700 worth of repairs and weighing up whether or not throwing the Mac up against their shiny glass storefront would feel good enough to compensate for the additional financial hit I would take due to, you know, vandalism and stuff.

These are theoretical examples of course.

* * * * *

The fire rages in our lives, and in its wake we are left feeling disappointed, bitter, angry or depressed. Or all four. Or something else. The landscape of our life begins to feel charred and dead. Worthless. Mordor-like.

* * * * *

At Yellowstone National Park, I made my first acquaintance with Lodgepole Pines. A hardy species, they grow in high elevations and close together. So close together, in fact, that they thin each other out, and the dead trees fall over, leaning against the live ones. This may seem insignificant, but when a fire comes through, the leaning, dead trees provide a kind of kindling that allows the fire to race to the top of the tree line, obliterating every single tree.

The bark is also thin, lessening its resistance to heat and flames. You could say that these trees are, in some ways, built to facilitate their own death by fire.

But there’s one other thing about the Lodgepole Pine, something important, and it has to do with its pine cone. This particular cone is a prickly little son-of-a-gun, and a sticky, sappy adhesive holds it tightly shut, enclosing its seeds. The cones fall and gather on the forest floor, up to 50,000 per acre each year, but no new trees can grow, because the cones are glued shut. Nothing can open them.

Well, one thing can.


And when that fire comes, it blazes through the Lodgepole Pines. It races up the deadwood, devouring every single tree, leaving nothing but charred, black stumps behind. Nothing but ash and death.

But it also opens up all of those pine cones, leaving millions of released seeds behind, and the seeds fall into the rich soil, and the rain and the sunlight, which can now come through, lift up a new generation of life.

* * * * *

This is what that internal fire will do for me, if I let it. It will (painfully) remove all the existing brush and deadwood and even, horror upon horrors, the living things. The things I’ve spent so much time growing and nurturing. But it also releases all the seeds of life that were stuck inside of me, the ideas and the emotions and the plans that never would have come to fruition without the fire. Without the destruction.

And the life that springs up out of that regeneration: what abundant life.

16 Replies to “50,000 Seeds: How Destruction Regenerates Your Life”

    1. Pretty cool, isn’t it Larry? At one particular section that had burned down, the new trees were about five feet high. A small plaque said something along the lines of: “This area of the forest was reseeded by wildfire in 1988.”

  1. About your Mac – I would get a quote from another certified Mac repair company. Apple charges WAY MORE than these small businesses do who are certified to repair macs. If you can hold off until you get back, there is a great place in Lancaster city who repaired my mac and it was very affordable compared to taking it to the “Genius” Bar. I love Apple products, but some of their business practices are crap.

    Beautiful analogy though. Just what I needed to hear.

  2. wow. When I work with silver, or craft a garment, the same ideas come to mind. I sometimes have to tear a thing down to get it to the shape it was meant to be. Great thoughts here.

      1. That just makes us both philosophes and geniuses, aware of our mortality and yuckiness.

  3. In the middle of a life that seems on fire. I needed this so much today. For whomever your wrote it, you reached me. At the perfect time. On the perfect day. Thank you.

  4. For the last several years, Colorado’s lodgepole pines have been decimated by the pine beetle. The only thing that can stop it is a good fire. Then those cones will burst and spread their seeds. The other thing you get in those high elevations after a fire is more aspen trees. Each grove is an interconnected root system, and they are much, much hardier than the lodgepole pines.

    And yes, I can get off on the spiritual symbolism of the Mountain West all freakin’ day! Thanks for sharing!

  5. This is beautiful Shawn.

    There’s a line in an Andrew Peterson song that reminds me of this. Talking about love, he sings, “It’ll burn you like a cinder ’til you’re tender to the touch.”

    Made my way here from the Saturday links in the Faith, Fiction, Friends blog. I’m going to add you to my RSS reader. Love the look of the blog.

  6. It is as if you peered into my heart and expressed what I have been feeling for the past year in words that I could not find. Thank you.

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