Monday, May 5, 2008

Spring Renewal

Our recent post on bird songs highlights the transition from winter silence to springtime song. Spring also affects our local trees, now slowly springing to life and tinged with pastel green. Let’s address another change associated with the onset of spring–-visual changes in the plant world which accompany the audible ones in the animal world.

In a deep winter February moment of despair we might have imagined that the dry, gray tree branches swaying in sub-zero blasts of cold were dead. Fast-forward to early May, however, and signs of renewed life are everywhere. Our home is situated in a biome called the “temperate deciduous forest.” Most of the trees lose their leaves in autumn after their summer food-making tasks are completed. They have sent carbon and nitrogen compounds in the form of proteins to storage cells in the tree roots and inner bark.

Come spring, when nights shorten, days lengthen, and temperatures rise, the trees detect the gradual changes. It is time for the roots and inner bark to give up their stored nutrients for the leaf-building process. Water and soil minerals make their upward journey. After several weeks, thousands of leaves on each tree have achieved full size, sporting their characteristic blade shapes and other identifiers. Leaf characteristics join branching patterns, bark textures, flowering and fruit production habits, and size limits as traits which never vary from the genetic blueprint. The tree knows exactly what to do and when to do it.

Descriptions of anatomy and behavior are exceedingly plentiful in animal and plant literature. But I have been surprised by the lack of explanations for the apparent “intelligence” underlying their behavior. How does an arrangement of molecules in DNA govern the unique behavior of each species? That intelligence is surely more than the reductionist might claim when he explains these behaviors as mere manifestations of “molecules in motion.”

Springtime in temperate climate zones provides many examples of nature’s work/rest cycles. God instructed Moses to establish a work/rest sequence for the Israelites in order to provide physical and spiritual benefits. Nature’s cycle mechanisms also reflect biblical exhortations to shift from idle barrenness to the bloom of active spiritual renewal. The spring season provides an object lesson for Christ’s resurrection–-the transition from death to life. God has given His children many models of spiritual reality from the world of nature. Be alert for these lessons!