“The trees of the LORD are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.”
Up and down the broad shoulders of the Missouri River, thousands of dead cedars lie akimbo, puffs of bronze against the prairie grasses. Ranchers fight a losing battle with the cedars because they grow like weeds in the hills. Eventually, if someone weren’t there to cut them down, they’d turn the valley into mighty forest. A forested Missouri River neighborhood might be beautiful—and remarkable amid miles of grassland; but ranchers are cattlemen, not lumberjacks.
The cedars of Lebanon, I’m told, face a wholly different problem. Those famed broad forests simply are no more, or are but a shadow of their former selves. They’re gone.
And who is to blame? Not us, thankfully—well, not us if we define ourselves by time and place. But if we define us by species, denuding the forested hills of Lebanon began thousands of years ago, when more populated areas of the desert Middle East needed the lumber.
When their supplies went scarce, wars erupted. Deprivation creates conflict—who’s going to get what all of us want? Then, later, the cedars of Lebanon became the building materials of the great Phoenician ships. Supplies waned.
While the cedars of Lebanon may have been well watered in the Psalmist’s day, today they are no more. They’re the stuff of legends because we did ‘em in. God may have planted them, but human enterprise felled them. It’s just that simple.
So why not let the cedars of the Missouri River grow into brand new forests? Human enterprise uproots them; why not just let them grow back?
There really never was a forest of cedars along the Missouri because they were continuously wiped out by raging prairie fires. A forest of river valley cedars would be a new thing really.
I don’t claim to understand a great deal about “the balance of nature” or the scientific field of ecology. But you don’t a degree to know that our interaction with the forces of nature changes the landscapes around us. I happen to live in in the county that leads the entire state in “altered” acres; here and there, on some forgotten hillside there may be a corner of actual native prairie. What’s more, the state of Iowa leads the nation is altered land. We have less wilderness here than anywhere. In Sioux County, Iowa, change is evident in every direction.
Right now, if you want to see the blessed cedars of Lebanon, the trees that thrill the poet, good luck. They’re gone.
Lebanon itself is often a war zone. There may be no more “cedars of Lebanon,” but some Lebanese wonder whether there even is a Lebanon.
Psalm 104 is a pageant of God’s wondrous glory in nature. All around him, the psalmist is awed by a landscape that blossoms.
On a clear night, when you turn off the blacktop and head south on gravel to our place, for about a minute, on a rise above prairie ground, a hundred red lights glow at the horizon and blink on cue from a field of wind turbines thirty miles east.
Their relative beauty can be argued. Their presence means the air somewhere is cleaner than it might be. Still, they dominate. It’s impossible not to see them.
That, today, the “cedars of Lebanon” create no music, no poetry, and no awe suggests is sort of sad; I’d like to see what make the psalmist sing.
Those long-gone cedars of Psalm 104: 16 is a reminder to care about our world.