At 2:50 am on September 23, Autumn officially began in the western hemisphere. Most people call this season “Fall” for a very practical reason—the leaves begin to fall from the trees. Our trees have been dedicating themselves to this for a couple of weeks already, even though the show of autumn colors in their leaves has barely begun.
It is at this time of year I think about forest stories and poems, as we anticipate the burst of color that is about to breakout around us and bless us.
Just south of Portland, Oregon, between the villages of Grand Ronde and Willamina, drivers along state highway 18 drive through the lands of Hampton Lumber Company, and see a surprising sight this time of year: a huge yellow ochre smiley face rising out of the forest along a slope above the road. After the area had been harvested in 2010, timber manager David Creel came up with the idea of planting dozens of larch trees in the shape of the iconic smiley face logo from the 1970s among the Douglas firs. Larch needles turn yellow and are shed each autumn, while Douglas firs, a common species for Christmas trees, is an evergreen.
Thus, for a few weeks each autumn, a grinning face appears within the forest. For the next 30 to 50 years, as these trees mature, this happy little bit of whimsy will be visible to all who arrive at the right season--- and look up. Where one might look at a forest and see a commercial product, or a natural resource, or a habitat for countless animals, or see a company sustainably managing the forest, those whose timing is right get a whimsical reminder of joy, almost making the terrain come alive.
By reforesting their lands, Hampton Lumber Company and others like them actively engage in the main definition of stewardship: care for the land, care for our surroundings.
Hampton Lumber Company’s little display reminds us that good stewardship can be—and should be—an act of joy. A way of seeing that even little actions we can take are not merely practical but part of making each day better not only for the people whose lives are touched by St. Martin’s ministries.
Trees are used as symbols in this year’s annual stewardship because they call to mind growth, hope, abundance. They provide shade and shelter, but also fruit, wood, paper. They help purify our air and create oxygen for us to breathe. They hold down the soil and prevent erosion on hillsides, and delight the eyes in autumn. There’s a proverb whose origin is unknown that I find very meaningful: “Blessed are people who plant trees knowing they may never sit in the shade of their foliage.”
I hope you are all engaging in dedicated prayer and discernment as we complete our first week of St. Martin’s stewardship campaign. I hope and pray that you see stewardship as not a chore, or something unpleasant, but as a creative, powerful way, to spread the love and joy of a life rooted in the love of God through strengthening and growing our parish.
As you think of the ways God has blessed you, I hope you are reminded of the joy that stewardship can bring—with a great big smile.
Images from The Oregonian newspaper