The Hope of New Life

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It’s Shabbat Nachamu: the High Holidays unofficially begin today…

This weekend we begin chanting the seven “Haftarot of Consolation” during Shabbat services. The tragedy of Tisha B’Av behind us, we now highlight healing, renewal and hope. With the help of these exquisite prophetic portions, we remind ourselves that there is no trauma so powerful, no despair so overwhelming, no wound so deep that we forever forfeit our ability to find our way back to new life.

It often occurs to me that this profound lesson of renewal is woven into the very fabric of creation itself. Here’s some “environmental commentary” in honor of a new season: a 2005 news report documenting the destruction and subsequent rebirth at Mount St. Helens in Washington State:

A small Douglas fir breaks through the ground six miles from the base of Mount St. Helens. In the distance, trees scattered like dropped matchsticks still lie where they were toppled by a cloud of fragmented rock and ash that exploded from this mountain 25 years ago.

A quarter-century has passed since the devastating blast killed 57 people and an overwhelming amount of plant and animal life. But the barren landscape is now scattered with green, and wildlife has made a home in the vastly different habitat.

As the force of the blast destroyed all in its path, it also carried within it new life – seedlings carried from the south side of the mountain landed and began to grow. Seeds continue to arrive via the fur of animals returning to the area.

Pine trees, honeysuckle and firs are all growing in the blast zone, without the help of man. Alder, cottonwood and willows abound. Some have fallen victim to hungry elk, who nibble at the trees, stunting their growth. But many are thriving in the area that was once covered with ash and debris.

“There was nothing out here. It’s easy to forget it was like that,” said Peter Frenzen, monument scientist for the U.S. Forest Service at Mount St. Helens. “The next forest is essentially here. We just have to wait for it all to grow up.”

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