I am at a writer’s retreat in North Carolina and that seems like a great time to start writing blog posts again after a little hiatus. I’ve been doing some intensive discernment and might soon have some fun news to share more widely, but there’s now time again for writing.
I am finding it hard to enjoy the blazing colors of the North Carolina leaves without seeing the mountains of Sonoma County, CA, where I recently visited, in flames. As I watch the leaves during the day and the Kincade Fire updates at night, the fiery orange of the trees seems far too much alike.
The Kincade Fire and others burning this week in California are clearly examples of violence, potential death, and sure destruction. The leaves too, hold their deaths in the orange. As the green chlorophyll evacuates, the tree cuts loose the dying food production factories. The bright colors bring the ever-present reality of mortality. Even the brown, dead leaves on the ground share a hint of the burning orange, an umber that requires a 64-pack of crayons to name.
However, when the sun hits these North Carolina leaves, it is impossible to deny the beauty in their death throws. So too, as the 1869 Soda Rock Winery went up in flames, there was an unmistakable magnificence in the power of destruction. Several pictures of the Kincade Fire show people standing on porches or on roadsides scanning for a glimpse of the glowing radiance. Like moths, we seem drawn to the flame that can kill us.
On my walk today around the retreat center, I saw one more instance of burning orange – an unexpected life-giving moment holding the power of orange’s vibrancy. At the pond that reflected the orange of the turning leaves tiny dots of color in the air caught the sunlight. They also seemed orange, or yellow, or sometimes golden but I couldn’t see what type of magical creature they were. I stood to get a closer look. Ladybugs, it turns out, swarming the bark of the pines whose needles broker no orange. They were such a menagerie of color: red, golden, palest yellow, and yes orange: bright sunlight, dark and burnt, straight out of the citrus grove, more colors of orange than I could imagine even with my 64-pack of Crayolas.
I remembered a picture of a ladybug on a retreat center form – what did it say? Why were these tiny creatures special here? Nearly running back to my cabin, I found only that the picture was a warning for the faint of heart. “Ladybugs do not like the cold,” it began, assuring retreatants that ladybugs are harmless. “While we do our best to keep the ladybug population under control, you will probably find them in your cabin in colder months.”
It has been chilly in these North Carolina mountains; that’s the signal for the leaves to change as well. The swarms of ladybugs around the pine trees were likely looking for a happy place to hibernate. I had to convince a few persistent buggers that my sweater was not that place. They did not appreciate it when their oversized red-headed pine tree shimmied to get them off. But their orange-dotted happiness gave me laughter in the midst of my fear for the people and places of Sonoma County.
There are many in California who will need a place to hibernate when the danger of burning orange trees in their yards has passed. Some will return to their undamaged homes. Others will have no homes to return to. My prayer is that all will find a place to rest their heads.
In the spring, the orange of the fires will have diminished, maybe even been extinguished. And the North Carolina trees will push forth new leaves, orange beneath their chlorophyll mask, of course, but green to those of us with eyes to see. The only orange remaining will be the ladybugs released from their nature-enforced sleep. And a new orange of spring flowers will appear alongside.
Have there been any natural or man-made disasters in your life that have caused you to see other things in your life differently? What signs of hope do you see around you? What do different colors make or help you to feel? When you see signs of seasons changing in the natural world, where do your thoughts go?
Openings: Let the Spirit In can help you look around you with different eyes, eyes fully connected to your inner, spiritual self. If you’re interested in learning more, contact us.