A Controlled Burn
Updated: Feb 6
Somewhere around 1999, a year or so after we had married, my husband I took a road trip to North Carolina, a few hours drive from Atlanta, where we now live. We decided to stop along the way and take a tour of one of the National parks and, as luck would have it (I use the term ‘luck’ loosely) we ended up with our own personal guided tour by a young forest ranger I’ll call Buck. I have no idea what his name was but that sounds like a good forest ranger name to me. Buck was so proud to tell us everything he had learned in ranger school. Ev-er-y-thing. It might be useful and interesting at this point in my story to let you know my wonderful, patient husband is a Self-Preservation Enneagram type 9. I am a Social Enneagram type 7. We knew nothing about the Enneagram at this point in our new marriage. Come to find out, there was a lot we didn’t know about each other that we would soon discover that included more than how anyone could choose Skittles over Hershey's chocolate. That’s a whole ‘nother story! Anyway, if you are lucky enough to have a type 9 in your life you know they are slow to react to a less than favorable situation unless, of course, their football team fumbled the ball…or so I’ve been told. On the other hand, 7s react excitedly to almost any new situation unless it’s boring…or sad... or really boring. But back to the forest ranger. After being our constant companion for a good half hour my husband had heard about all he cared to know about this park and very kindly told Buck that we were going to head back because we needed to get on the road again. (I wonder if Willie Nelson was inspired by his own guided tour with Buck the forest ranger…”I just can’t wait to get on the road again”.) Anyway, this should have been Buck’s cue. The trail was a circular path which meant we couldn’t get lost if we tried. The fact that we were picking up the pace should have been another little hint. But Ranger School didn’t offer a class on the art of picking up subtle clues. Buck was clueless. We walked faster and as we did, Buck talked faster. It was about that time that he asked if we knew what a controlled burn was. Now, in my defense and as any type 7 would back me up here, I did not know and therefore, I wanted to know! I got excited with the prospect of learning something new and took the bait. In conclusion, our marriage survived that near disaster. We continue to discover things about each other, learned how to consider the unique ways each other processes life, how we each interact with strangers who love to chat, how each defines vacation, why it's ok for one of us to love roller coasters and the other to not, to understand that while we are one in this union of marriage, we are separate individuals. Not only have we worked hard to understand these difference, we appreciate them. Today, 23 years later, we are more happily married that ever. But it was a close call!
Back to the story....If you don’t know what a controlled, or prescribed burn is I’ll give you the cliff notes (I could say ‘Reader’s Digest version' and if you’re over 40 you will appreciate that reference.) According to Wikipedia “a controlled burn is a fire set intentionally for purposes of forest management, farming, prairie restoration or greenhouse gas abatement. A controlled burn may also refer to the intentional burning of slash and fuels (dead standing trees, layers of old pine needles, underbrush) through burn piles. Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters. Hazard reduction or controlled burning is conducted during the cooler months to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of serious hotter fires. Controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, and reveals soil mineral layers which increases seedling vitality, thus renewing the forest. Some cones, such as those of lodgepole pine and sequoia, are serotinous, as well as many chaparral shrubs, meaning they require heat from fire to open cones to disperse seeds.”
I can add forest management to the never ending list of subjects I want to learn everything about. When I was leaving for college my mom said, “I hope they have a major in potpourri because you just want to learn about everything!” She was right. So I majored in biology which was close to potpourri. But the subject of fire has just been one that has piqued my interest for decades. When I learned that highly trained professionals intentionally set fires to protect the forest I wanted to find Smokey the Bear and ask him if he had ever met Buck the forest ranger.
WAIT....rewind! Did you skip over that word, serotinous? I won’t assume that many of you didn’t already know the meaning but if you, like me, had no idea what it meant before learning about a controlled burn, let me share. Serotinous is an adjective meaning remaining on a tree after maturity and opening to release seeds only after exposure to certain conditions, especially heat from a fire. Serotinous cones can hang on a pine tree for years, long after the enclosed seeds mature. Only when a fire sweeps through, melting the resin, do these heat-dependent cones open up, releasing seeds that are then distributed by wind and gravity. Heat-dependent! They only release the seeds after being exposed to the heat such as that of a fire! As I discussed in this podcast called "The Unworkable", we encounter, either by intentionally seeking answers or by life conditions that force us to question, a type of fire we need to melt off the hard outer later that is keeping us from the fullness of life.
"When we know better, we do better" isn't always true. Sometimes...many times, actually, we DO know better but changing, letting go of the hard shell that has been our security for so long means dying to the life we knew. But this, my friends, is the nature of nature - birth, death, rebirth. We repeat the cycle our entire lives, transforming from infant to child to adult and all stages in between, each one requiring us to shed the old in order to reveal the new.
This is what the Enneagram does. Like the fire that causes the Serotinous cones to release the seeds that had been held tightly by the hard, resin shell, the work of learning the Enneagram reveals what needs to be removed, what is keeping us in bondage, preventing our growth path.
Are you going through the fire right now? This just might be the beginning of the your new, amazing life! Is it time for you to be released?