The trees are dying. The soil has dried up to sand. The earth is literally sinking beneath our feet. We are on our fourth year of drought and feeling an anxious weight press in as we read in the headlines, words like, “severe,” “crisis,” “emergency”.
Up here in the mountains, we typically see more natural growth and vegetation than our friends in the city, but it also brings a more palpable reality to the relentless lacking water. Looking down into the canyon and up on the ridge, Brown is fingering its way through the forest. We mourn the death; we fear fire, and we question: what on earth is happening?
Our family went camping last week. We found a spot only twenty minutes from our home, but a new set of trees brought with them a fresh perspective and a kind of quiet that lets you breathe again. After we set up camp, a trail was found, which inevitably led our feet wandering. Hiking with our two littles is much different than what we used to experience, sans kids; thus, one of those new perspectives: learning to enjoy the trail rather than making it to the end in record time. We’d take a few steps, and crouch down to look at some ants carrying sticks in their tiny jaws. Take a few more steps and poke at some holes in the ground, extending our greetings to [whatever] lived in there. A few more steps and find an even better walking stick.
It was in this slow process that I noticed something: there were along the way, hundreds of wildflowers poking up through the sandy trail. How had they managed to grow in that water-robbed dirt? There were also, all around us, just as many lifeless trees. Due to the shock of drought, unable to produce sap to trap and kill the bark beetle, these trees have been dying at an alarming rate.
So here we were, surrounded by new life in delicate petals, and the stark reality of death in the trees, which looked more like old bones than they did Pine. It was a sobering reminder that the ground has been cursed. Instantly, I was struck by my long-winded faulty thinking. All this time – these four long years – I had been waiting for rain because it’s what I need, and so (I thought) it must also be my right. I deserve to grow a flower garden and keep a green lawn. I deserve to take more than a two-minute shower. I deserve to lather up my pollen-covered car and wash it clean. It’s my right! But in that moment, staring up at those ribcage remnants of trees, I felt as though I was walking out of the Garden of Eden, faced with the reality of my sin: Death has come, and it is what I deserve.
But grace bloomed from the tiny flowers under my shoe. These – the pink of the petals, the soft green leaves, the tender blossoms opening – are gifts, not rights. There is grace in every new bud blinking into its first light, every green shoot springing out of a healthy branch; from every drip that falls from the sky, there is grace. It is not what I deserve, and even in the midst of the drought, it is more than I deserve. And I didn’t even see it until death made it’s way here.