"They all look green to me." Thus did my friend reply in her inimitable, sardonic manner to my animated naming of the passing trees as black spruce, white spruce, white pine, red pine and eastern white cedar. Despite my initial protestations to her nugget of truth, I did see that she had a point. They did all look green.
I love walking through the forest after a good windstorm. Trees snapped off, blown over, uprooted. All part of the dynamic, "ordered chaos" of a forest. Like every other living being, trees, if they live long enough - or rather grow tall enough, will eventually be killed by something. For tall trees, wind can be the great destroyer.
What caught my sight during a recent, post-windstorm walk were a series of snapped and cut red alder. Red alder (Alnus rubra) is the most common deciduous tree in these parts and grows quickly on exposed mineral soil. Thus the reason you see them so often along roads, old logging trails and along river banks and flats.
This particular tree is described as "red" for good reason. Freshly cut or wounded wood or bark flashes forth with a vivid red-orange stain. The recent wind storm (and subsequent salvage cutting by park officials) had exposed such inner alder red in several places along my usual path. These freshly killed trees, their fatal red wounds gaping through the green-grey forest, were obvious to the pedestrian eye.
Chemists have obviously taken an interest in this reddish orange colour. What to us is red is a series of natural diaryheptanoid glycosides that go by the names of 1,7-bis-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)heptan-3-one-5-xylopyranoside, (5S)-1,7-bis(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-5-O-(6-O-benzoyl-β-D-glucopyranosyl)-hetpan-3-one and (5S)-1,7-bis(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-5-O-(6-O-vanilloyl-β-D-glucopyranosyl)-heptan-3-one. Just thought that you'd want to know this. These three compounds are considered novel to red alder and have been the source of dyes and medicines for the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest.
To my friend, all the trees were obviously - and rightly green. For most of us, the red alder stain is simply that, a red stain.
But, there's always more to life than meets the eye. For some, the human person is simply a naked ape, a vehicle of selfish genes, a complex firing of neurons, an accident in the great scheme of things. For Christians, the human is created in the image of God. The former description rests on the biological level. The latter description rests on the spiritual level. Both statements purport to describe truth.
However, the biological description is often presented as the only description of what it means to be human. The spiritual description should be able to include the biological level and carry it to deeper levels of intellectual and affective engagement.
The red alder is aptly named. So are all those other "green trees." But these simple green trees possess a depth and breath that is not readily evident to the casual observer. Such depth requires a more discerning gaze, a contemplative spirit.
Maybe that is why Jesus constantly reminded his listeners to have eyes that see - and ears that hear, the deep, abiding glory of God.