Nature’s intelligent design

August 22, 2020

An abstract “tree of life” design with African folk design motifs by Meredith Eliassen, 2020.

News of fire in the grove of towering conifers in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in August 2020 and images of smoldering red flames inside the base trunk of a beloved ancient redwood offer no comfort in Northern California’s oppressive heat and smoke of the last week. However, as a native Californian, I am optimistic nature’s intelligent design means these groves will be reborn. The ecology of the Redwoods is resiliently designed by a higher power. The thousand-plus-year-old ancient Redwoods, or “the Ancients,” have a dense fire-resistant bark that can be a foot thick. The Redwood groves hold particular significance to local California Indian tribes who harvested basket-making material from the sacred forest floors for function and ceremony. Indigenous Californian have been great stewards of the region’s natural ecology as ethnobotanists. Native Americans understand the need for planned burns to maintain groves and manage ground-level growth during long cold seasons so in times of drought, there is no excessive fuel for fires.

Lightning strikes caused this fire. Nature may not be convenient to us humans who are set in our ways and live and build homes in densely wooded areas with little humility for their dominant ecology, but Nature takes care of us even in our ignorance. As the Ancients of the Redwood groves reach to the sky, branches are few near the forest floor. The Ancients as Redwood ancestors watch over the passing of generations from above. The largest redwoods seeming stand alone. When the fogs return with moisture from the nearby Pacific ocean, we may, if we watch over time, see how life is naturally renewed. In familial clusters within the redwoods, the oldest surviving trees scarred by past blazes stand in the middle, a few younger giants will support the center Ancestor, and a circle of younger trees will eventually emerge in a beautiful chain of life. Let us be hopeful and humble as nature does her best work.

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