On trees, chaff and harvest moons  

Posted by Denis Haack in ,

The ancient Hebrew Psalter opens with a metaphor for life that I find easy to forget. Some people are like trees, the poet says, while others are like chaff. The reason it’s easy to forget, I think, is because the chaff is so irritatingly-in-your-face.


I love driving through southern Minnesota over the course of the year. We watch the gently rolling farmland pass through the seasons of the year, farmers working in their fields. The land is plowed, tilled, planted and in the spring the bright shoots of green sprout. Over the summer the grain matures, heads developing under the hot sun. Then in the fall the color slowly shifts from green to various shades of tawny tan, yellow and gold until the time arrives for harvest. And then the huge combines carve swathes through the fields, cutting the stalks, separating the grain from the waste, and belching out dusty chaff.


The massive clouds of chaff rise into the air, seeming at times to dominate the landscape. It fills the air, producing so much air pollution that at night the moon turns orange, a harvest moon. Then the chaff dissipates and is gone. It is the trees that remain, fruitful and firmly rooted. They may have receded into the background as the dust billowed, but in the end they remain.


As we drive through the landscape, we pass wooded areas, some snaking along little creeks and rivers, some serving as windbreaks for isolated homesteads. White-barked stands of birch and poplar, clutches of pine trees, and gnarled, majestic oaks spreading massive branches out as if reaching to embrace the horizon. I always wonder how many harvests they have seen come and go, how much chaff they have watched billow and disappear.


21st century life means being immersed in media, bombarded by news, surrounded by images, as if caught in a choking cloud of dust. There is no escaping it, and no need to, actually. That is if we are more like (by God’s grace) trees than chaff. Increasingly rooted in hope rather than blown about by events, content in the knowledge that history is not whirling into chaos rather than cut off by the latest depressing trend. The chaff moves, fills the air, is where the action is; the trees know shalom, a deeply rooted stability, an ability seemingly to wait, aware but unimpressed by what passes away.



This entry was posted at Sunday, December 14, 2008 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Post a Comment