A Little More Serious · Adventures in Imperfection

Prairie Burn

Prairie Burn
“She’s mad, but she’s magic. There’s no lie in her fire.” ― Charles Bukowski

In my corner of the country, spring is the signal to burn the prairie. Start fresh, and purge the landscape of weeds and seeds and spindly trees. This fire-fallow cultivation is a showy signal to Mother Nature and a tell that it’s time to beckon the sprouted green aftermath.

Like thunderstorms, the sensual lure of the fire is fascinating to the farm girl side of me. I’m drawn to the lick of the flames and the way its fiery tail snakes through the prairie grasses. If the wind is just right, the roar will rise to the open sky as the sound surrounds the soul bowing beneath its heat.

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The men in my family have always understood the science behind a controlled, agricultural burn. Over the decades, I’ve watched the experts and learned, and I’ve played with fire, too. As a pre-teen, I stood at our backyard trashcan and practiced coaxing the flame from one strand of grass to another with a wayward twig…or gasoline.

But during a prairie burn, I’m content to hide my pyromaniac tendencies behind a camera lens. My husband and his friend speak in code to each other, and if I listen close enough, I learn the secrets of fire breaks and burn circles. The intricate dance of escorting the inferno to the perimeter without making the mistake of letting flames jump the road and become the uninvited guests of the neighbors.

The appointed evening was chosen because it had rained the day before. The wind was quiet and the night was clear and humid. The guys complained that the conditions made it difficult to keep the fire going, but I was content because it made it safe for me to crouch in the grass next to the flames and steal some photos.

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Fire and thunderstorms share the same ragged corner of my mind and I’m drawn to the metaphor. With each of these forces, there is a purge, a cleansing, and a fine line between fear and excitement. Spring is the season of new life and renewal. Out with the old and in with the new.

Are we able to do that as easily with our lives as we are with the flower beds, garden sheds, and dotted prairie plots? Each spring I have good intentions to let old habits, grudges, waning friendships, and negativity fall away.

Let it go. Let it fall. let it be.

Yet, I’m drawn to the flames, and I keep looking for a way to play with fire. To make deals with myself that I’ll build a break to keep the bad habits from hopping the road and burning those around me.

I know this sounds melancholy, but I assure you that I’m not. Something about watching the flames last night made me want to share the moment with you. As I snapped the photos you see, I counted my many blessings, made promises to be a better mom, wife, and friend. A vow that launched me toward a controlled burn–to get rid of weeds, unwanted seeds, and debris. To tidy up the brain for a productive and verdant harvest in the months to come.

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What is it about a fire that draws, lures and beckons us toward the fatal blaze? The desire to feed the source coupled with the sensibility to douse it out once it’s served its purpose or delivered its destruction.

I have no enlightened answers.

Just a torch and a camera.

How about a little fire, Scarecrow?

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74 thoughts on “Prairie Burn

  1. The use of fire to shape and manage the landscape, by all evidence, is one of the most ancient, organized human activities. Yours is an ode to that tradition stretching into the unfathomable mists of the past. And, the photos are gorgeous.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Robert! As you’ve noted, the practices dates all the way back to the Mayan civilization. I think it’s so fascinating to see some of the primal practices still serve a purpose. Thanks for reading…I’ve been remiss in getting out to read my friends. I’ll be over to visit soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Gorgeous photos.
    It’s so interesting to me, the way you just talk about it…matter of course, this is what we do. Me? I’ve never seen or thought of a controlled burn, and yet the meditation you wrote (yes you did) and the awareness of how easily the thoughts come and go, acted upon or not…
    “Each spring I have good intentions to let old habits, grudges, waning friendships, and negativity fall away.

    Let it go. Let it fall. let it be.

    Yet, I’m drawn to the flames, and I keep looking for a way to play with fire. To make deals with myself that I’ll build a break to keep the bad habits from hopping the road and burning those around me.”:

    really nice. thank you for that, and the introduction to controlled burn

    xo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your sweet words have left me speechless and wishing you could see our prairies on fire. It’s striking, and I just can’t quite capture it with words or pictures.
      Thank you for making me feel like I did. Xoxoxox.

      Like

      1. I am a pinball bouncing between the various walls of healing….Today, I so needed to see the words you offered. I think I will print them off and plaster them all over my house because they speak to so many layers that are churning right now. They are a balm…. like you.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, George 🙂
      Last night took about 3 hours and we did a small patch in about an hour.
      The big prairie (like the thousands of acres in the Flint Hills of KS) require a lot more time and expertise–and a perfect day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I learned to respect fire at a young age after setting the backyard on fire with a magnifying glass. Fire truly does speak to us in a way unlike any other element. Your images and words were like kindling and a spark, igniting the soul. Beautifully done, Michelle 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I knew you’d get it. One doesn’t become a volunteer fireman for the pay.
      I know I kinda thrust this article in front of your face, so thanks for hopping over here and reading. I’ll be over to visit you again this weekend…sooner if our bonfire gets out of control 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Samara and I just found out that we are going to be at the same writer’s conference together…I think she’s asked if we could set things on fire. I’m saying yes – if you’ll come provide safety back up…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I would so be there for that! You two are going the be the belles of the ball. Or at the very least have a total ball. Can’t wait to read THOSE posts from you two !

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  4. Beautiful photo and beautiful words supporting them. A mesmerizing tale for sure! I love a good fire. But I’ve always kept it contained to the fire pit. This would be amazing to watch. Like you, I would be trying to find new and creative ways to capture it on film (or an SD card) through the lens. As for fire songs, how about Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (LOL yes you did). Or Sean Kingston’s “Fire Burning” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OOOO! Good call on the songs. I’m adding them to the list right now – that’s one of the aweosome Spotify features.
      I’ve been lobbying for a fire pit for several years now…hoping we’ll build one this spring. Love sitting around the fire with friends and kiddos. Thanks for stopping by, Eric. You’re up next!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Just a torch and camera and phenomenal photos to show for ’em. I understand flames are hard to capture. Wow, look at you! Beautiful exploration of the metaphor, too. Yes, even the trees shed themselves and surrender to winter’s barrenness. God restores their beauty and fullness. We should trust. We should trust.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My dear Diana,
      I absolutely love seeing you here. Your words sound like a peaceful mantra:

      “Yes, even the trees shed themselves and surrender to winter’s barrenness. God restores their beauty and fullness. We should trust. We should trust.”

      Indeed we should. Thanks for taking the time to stop in and say hello. I think about you often and hope you and T-dog (and Mr.H) are all doing well. xo

      Like

  6. I hear you soulful lady. I was born ‘out bush’ and lived it for many years Michelle. It is an entire world of its own. And among it are the most beautiful, rare, and amazing things that always leave an imprint…of what is truly natural in this world.
    And because of that it has made it so much easier to touch that place within, no walls of man made plastics, physical or emotional….just the raw life that this world is really built on.
    Great share Michelle, thank you, I now have this urge to ‘go bush’, as we say over here, light a campfire and get in touch with the energy from ‘out there’ and feel what has real meaning in our lives, and see the beauty that is on each path that we tread 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh Mark…do you know how much I’d love to hear your stories about the bush? I know nothing of your land, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather hear about it from.
      Lighting a campfire works a magic doesn’t it? The warmth, the beautiful flames, and the way it encourages friends to stay in a circle with each other.
      Thank you for always being such a wonderful friend and reader. I’m gonna keep my eyes open for your bush story, okay?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow Mama, powerful, powerful stuff. The combination of the pictures and the prose reflecting your thoughts and feelings was a knock-out punch. I’ve had a small personal introduction to these emotions when training to fight fuel fires (part of the safety training for fuel drivers). A 6 foot X 12 foot pan filled with gas and diesel was set fire (in the fire training center in Ottawa) and we had to extinguish it with fire extinguishers – one person at a time.When the flames are dancing 10 or 12 feet high in the air and the heat pounds your face, with the constant sounds of air rushing to feed the fire and the wind threatening to blow it back on you and constantly changing,, whipping the flames around behind and beside. Yikes! In our case we had real firemen standing by in case it got away or we were endangered – but it was intense.

    In your case the fire was loose in real grass and burning real fuel – a very challenging and I’m sure more intense experience than the controlled stuff we did. The emotional impact you describe is elemental and feels as physical as a punch in the gut – just as effectively emptying my lungs of air. And then the pictures act as an uppercut while I was still bent over from the gut punch – effectively laying me out flat on the ground – down for the count. Speechless is the best way to describe my reaction. i can only write this because I read your post four times in the space of 2 hours and let it sink in.

    Excellent post Mama – this should be more widely distributed and read (do they still do Freshly Pressed?). I am awed mi’lady. Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Paul,
      I am humbled by your words and apologize for the round in the boxing ring (tee! hee!). You captured the essence of fire in your description above. Even though you had firemen back-up, the danger is always there–not always at the surface. You get it…you totally do.
      Thank you, my friend, for always getting me, too. xo

      Liked by 1 person

  8. “Like thunderstorms, the sensual lure of the fire is fascinating to the farm girl side of me. I’m drawn to the lick of the flames and the way its fiery tale snakes through the prairie grasses.”

    Wow.
    My glasses began fogging up!
    You’re a helluva woman, Michelle.
    I’m going to stop typing before I get into trouble…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, I grew up on a farm for a period of my youth and remember helping, okay watching the men do scorch areas of the land! Always thought it was the coolest thing ever!

    You captured these beautifully in words and those amazing photo’s!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, T. I could sense the farm girl essence in you, too. I’ve been saving your posts from this week for the right moment. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to. I always feel a sense of calm after reading your words.
      Have a great rest of the weekend!!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I remember controlled burns from my childhood. Like most children, I had a fascination with fire and a learned respect for it as an adult.
    I like the comparison with the hope of spring and desire to wipe away the bad habits to start anew. Perhaps this is a message many of us needed to hear today 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am having so much fun with the comments on this post – like you, many have witnessed the spring burn where others have not. Crazy how those flames lure us in – especially as children. I hope you’ve had a great week, my friend!!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow! Those flame images are incredible. You’re so talented, and I love how you made it all symbolic to life. You’re good at doing that and making simple things become profound. I went to college near Yellowstone when it burned in the late 80’s and even went on a field trip there and saw the flames in parts of the park burning the gorgeous forests and making the sun red in the sky for months. Almost 20 years later, I took my family there for a vacation and I was amazed at how lush the forests had grown back in. The trees were so thick you couldn’t walk in most spots and it was so beautiful green. That’s when I saw the power of rebirth that the fires had brought to the area. What seemed destroyed, just opened the path to new life and now Yellowstone is once again majestic and glorious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Charissa…I love that you shared your Yellowstone observation. I was there in the 80s, too and we are going back this summer. I have been so curious to know what it looks like now. It makes my heart happy to know that the violent fires of the past have only worked to make it more beautiful now.
      And thank you, as always, for your kind words. Writing about the ordinary happenings and things are what makes my heart the happiest–I’m so fortunate to have good friends to read my ramblings.
      I’ll be over to visit you very soon – I’m holding at least two of your posts in my inbox and waiting to open them like a gift. I hope you’re having a great weekend, Char! xo

      Like

      1. I can’t wait to see what you think of Yellowstone now. It’s been about six years since I went. My boy was little and obnoxious. All he wanted to do was go back to the motel and swim in the pool. His consistent quote that week was “There are too many trees.” I thought that was a wonderful thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Bahahaha “too many trees.” I am so wondering what the hubs will say. “Too much sulfur?” I remembering being in Colorado and just swooning over the fact that we were there all week. His comment to me when I said we needed to move there, “Look, a person can hike and take pictures for only so long” 🙂

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    1. Hey Bob!! So great to hear from you. You and your sweet wife have been on my mind lately. I’m sure you’ve wondered where we have been.
      Thank you for always reading my ramblings…I keep you and C in my thoughts and prayers. Michelle

      Like

  12. Oh my god, those pictures, Michelle! I can feel the warmth from here. I love a good fire but you somehow make it look even better on screen. On Saturday we spent a beautiful day working outside, and then it turned gray and chilly by late afternoon. Even though I wanted to go inside, my husband built a fire and I couldn’t resist sitting by it. I love the smell and how it lingers in my clothes and hair. As a perpetually cold person, I’m drawn to the warmth, though this post reminds me of all the deeper layers at play.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “My husband built a fire and I couldn’t resist sitting by it.”
      You totally got what I was layin’ down, Kristen. Something divinely primitive about hanging with the people you love around a fire. And turning frequently so that you keep all sides evenly toasted 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Burn baby, burn!

    Gorgeous photos. I need to find the ones of when we burned the cattails in our tank with flamethrowers. Now THAT was fun.

    Funny how both a good slow burn, or a long cold freeze, can clean a slate for rebirth and growth.

    Equally funny, how we hold both the power to burn and to freeze within our own hearts.

    *
    Fire and Ice

    BY ROBERT FROST
    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    *

    “You have to carry the fire.”
    “I don’t know how to.”
    “Yes, you do.”
    “Is the fire real? The fire?”
    “Yes it is.”
    “Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”
    “Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”

    ~ Cormac McCarthy, The Road

    Liked by 3 people

    1. *Chills…
      Robert Frost and Cormac McCarthy in the same space. Perfect.
      Remember when you and Jennie curated the first series for the End of Days on WFTW? It was my first introduction to The Road – only a few days after a friend told me that I had to watch the movie. Read the book, watched the movie. Been in love with “You have to carry the fire” ever since.
      Do you have pictures of the flame throwers and cattails??? OMG…that’s a firebug’s nirvana.
      Thank you for always reading and being my BBF…now…let’s go set some shit on fire! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  14. What a wonderful article! You are a very talented writer… I felt like I was there watching the prairie burn, too! I like how you captured the essence of rebirth environmentally, while relating it to a human emotion as well – very thought provoking!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m so envious! Photographing a prairie fire!! When I was a kid, my best friend’s family would burn their field some years. I loved it. I could never understand how the blackberries would survive though. There are definitely times when burning the underbrush in life helps get rid of extraneous seeds not wanted, and allow for us to strengthen our desired roots. Like spring cleaning the house of dust, cobwebs and clutter no longer needed. Thank you for the eye candy and brain candy!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Gorgeous images and a great analogy for what we should do in or own lives, once in a while. I’m a fire dragon (if we’re talking Chinese astrology, obviously not literally!) perhaps that’s why I’m always mesmerised by flames too!
    So pleased I got directed this way via a share of your post on Opinionated Man / Harsh Reality. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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