Friday, April 20, 2012

Prairie Fire

Mike lit the torch, disappeared into the grass that was as tall as he, and manifested one of humankind's greatest frenemies: fire. For 10 minutes, we could hardly breathe. Not just because of the thick smoke choking on some green brush nor the ash whipped into the air by small tornadoes made by the fire's heat meeting with cooler air, but because the experience was so intense. 

It's a can't-turn-back-now moment when you must accept that you've set in motion something that can't be undone. We had two hundred-foot hoses at the ready, though that still wasn't long enough to meet the edge of the firebreak. Our dampers in hand, loaned to us from the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department, we were as ready as we could be to burn the field. (Some of you might remember last time we attempted a burn, during which we set our neighbor's field ablaze. Although we've never been more drained by an experience, the grass was quite rejuvenated the following season and popped back stronger than ever. Thus, we play with matches every year.)  

Bronte didn't seem to mind the commotion and followed us around the perimeter.
Aided by a 10 mph wind from the south, we started backburning in the northernmost corner, watching the flames flare up with two years' worth of dead stalks as tinder. The fire pushed directly toward our neighbor's house. That caused the heart-pumping, sickening rush I remembered. It would have felt better to have burnt down our own house rather than someone else's. But the fire hit the break and fizzled out at the edges just like it was supposed to.

After the fire moved safely past our neighbor's house, we relaxed. Our personal universes intact, we calmly watched the fire go, appreciating its usefulness in this instance.

Smoke filling the air past a charred landscape.
New growth won't burn. This path marks our previous mowed trails.

"If you ever catch on fire, try to avoid seeing yourself in the mirror, because I bet that's what really throws you into a panic."
--Jack Handy

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