After a four-and-a-half years’ wait, walking the yellow trail loop is now a dream-come-true. With help from thirteen students and staff from Crossings School, an alternative high school system in Northern Indiana, a final day’s push on Friday, October 30, 2015, got us through dozens of downed trees and almost impenetrable blackberry canes and multi-flora rose bushes. Bloodied but triumphant, the workers were exhausted and exhilarated from the day’s work.
It is amazing to walk through the destruction left by the tornado with log piles still towering overhead and root balls of the largest trees almost as tall as the former understory. The trail roughly follows the old route but descends through waist-deep root holes to find solid ground under a thorny canopy. The natural succession of thorny shrubs has firmly taken hold in the area. Keeping the trail clear will be a prickly task in the coming years.
In memory, I can see the trillium bank and the old footbridge beneath huge oaks and stately black locust trees that lined the old county road cut, abandoned sometime in the middle of the last century. I hope to see the flowers again in spring, but the bridge, alas, was demolished by the tree fall. Its remnants are smashed between three trunks along the trail.
Violence like the wind that caused this shambles reminds me of Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations God has brought on the earth.
Who makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
who breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
who burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
[The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ps 46:1-3, 8–10, alt.]
The changed earth and the desolations God has brought are useful for meditating on how “imperfect” God’s ways seem to us with our limited knowledge and finite timeline. The tremendous fruitfulness encouraged by this windfall (a word usually used to denote unexpected blessing) is not in line with my “best use” of the land. And yet… And yet, it is useful and even necessary for the land to undergo this cycle of death and life, change and succession, to continue to sustain life.
Even though walking through this landscape is still a bit of a hardship, I hope you can visit us soon and walk the yellow trail with all of its beauty and difficulty (we’ll even supply the hand clippers). Then the words of the psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God!” can ring in your ears and it will mean more than halting at a traffic light or pausing before you rush off to your next appointment. It will carry the whole impact of the Psalm in which everything is disturbed and disturbing. Then the act of stillness is a work of faith. Because it impossible for us to fix what is torn apart, we can be reminded of God’s work in the world and how inscrutable it sometimes is. We can rest in the long, slow plan of a God who renews land by uprooting trees, provides thickets for the wrens and finches (not to mention the skunks and raccoons) and then gradually returns the land to forest.