A Rising Green

Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, February 2, 2017

After weeks of fruitless horizon-scanning and radar-consulting, the roiling smoke plume rising over the southwestern horizon seemed promising. Before long, I’d found confirmation: a scheduled burn at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge was underway, and the section being burned would be accessible by road.

February 2

I’d been hoping to visit a native prairie after a prescribed burn, and my opportunity had arrived. The January 31 burn, carried out under the supervision of the Texas Mid-Coast fire crew on 515 acres of land, would be accessible via Hoskins Mound Road, my usual route to the Brazoria refuge.

When I arrived at the refuge on February 2, a portion of the world I’d known there appeared to have been obliterated.

February 2

Donning boots to work my way across the prairie, I found the combination of ash, scorched stems, crawfish remnants, and brittle, broken reeds adding to a sense of other-worldliness. Here and there, bits of human detritus lay revealed. Among the beer cans, I found a tiny, ruby glass bottle, embossed “Segovia.” Plucking it from the ashes, I tucked it in my pocket.

Even wetlands hadn’t stopped the fire. A familiar stand of cattails and rushes had been scorched and thinned as surely as the grasses.

February 2

Still, the water also had provided protection. Wading into the slough, I found bits of growing grass breaking the surface of the water, and round-leaved plants just below. The juxtaposition of this green and growing world with the surrounding ash-covered prairie was remarkable. How soon, I wondered, might the prairie itself begin to recover?

February 2

For two months, I traveled to my bit of prairie on a weekly basis: photographing, sketching, and recording observations. In time, I’ll write about that experience in more detail — including the story of the flora that turned out to be fauna.  But while the science of it all — the rationale for prescribed burns, and their remarkable results — is worth sharing, the miraculous aspects of regrowth are equally compelling.

As the weeks passed, I found myself remembering a lovely hymn written by John MacLeod Crum (1872-1958). Set to the popular 15th century French carol melody, Noël Nouvelet, it was added to the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928: the year Crum began serving as Canon of Canterbury. 

The song pairs perfectly with my images of a green and growing prairie, just as it points to the improbable beauty of Easter. In the end, whatever we believe, or don’t, about the historicity of those events, this much is clear: miracles do happen. For proof, we need only look to the prairie.

  

(Click to hear Stephanie Seefeldt’s version of “Now the Green Blade Rises”)

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
February 5
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.
February 12
In the grave they laid him, Love by hatred slain,
Thinking that he would never wake again,
February 12
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.
February 12
Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
February 18
Raised from the dead, my living lord is seen
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.
February 18
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
March 19
Your touch can call us back to life again;
March 19
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
March 19
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.
March 19
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
March 28
Love is come again, like wheat arising green.

Comments always are welcome.

125 thoughts on “A Rising Green

  1. Prairie is meant to burn every now and then. In the far off days when receding glaciers left the flattened mid portion of the country, the grasses grew, buffalo roamed, and lightening struck creating prairie fires. Tubers and grass grew roots more than 12 feet deep. Prairie fires got rid of the matted build up and allowed new growth to thrive. That’s what the prairie does.

    And why, these many centuries later, conservation reserve programs require that lands in CRP are burned every three years. The fires rejuvenate the land and kill off seedling trees that would otherwise take over. So yes, it’s a miracle of green, but it’s also the miracle of evolution.

    1. You’re right about the beneficial effects of fire. Removal of thatch, control of woody invasives — all of the things fire did naturally often were considered unnecessary by people for whom fire was purely an enemy. As for those roots, I was astonished during a burn training to find that soil is such a good insulator. Only inches below the surface, damage is minimal when a fast-moving fire passes over.

      Of course, it’s far more complicated than simply throwing a match into the middle of a prairie. Given the necessary preparations, such as mowing, a burn can be a two-year process; at least, that’s true here. Conditions have to be right, and people well trained. But the results are marvelous — as you well know.

    1. It’s really been quite a project, Tina. I even learned a few things about soil composition when I made the mistake of pulling off to the prairie side of the road, and had to be pulled out of the mud by two nice fishermen and their truck. Now, I have a tow strap as part of my camera accessories, and I’m more careful about where I park. Life lesson #736: coastal prairie isn’t the hill country.

  2. You’ve reminded me of how quickly vegetation began springing up after the great fire that destroyed most of the Bastrop forest in September of 2011. The burning off of the thick layer of dead pine needles that covered the ground cleared the way for seeds that otherwise would have stood no chance of sprouting.

    1. I well remember that event, and your photos — including the one of the white prickly poppy. The little forb shown just after the three photos of grasses-in-ashes is Texas prairie parsley (Polytaenia texana), which I’m told is a good example of the kind of native plants that will re-establish quickly after a fire.

        1. That was a problem for me, too. The percentage of plants I recognized in their infancy was precisely zero. I’ve met a couple of people now who have been propagating prairie grasses and forbs for years, and of course they can glance-and-tell.

    2. Speaking of burning off pine needles, look what I found while reading about the Matilija poppy:

      “While easy to grow in the garden, in the nursery, the species (Romneya coulteri and R. trichocalyx) are difficult to propagate. Seeds will not germinate unless they have experienced the flash heat of wild fire. At Tree of Life Nursery, pine needles are ceremoniously burned across the tops of the freshly sown seed flats. Germination usually begins within a few days.”

  3. What a wonderfully educational set of photographs. I especially love the ones near the top with the green grasses against the ash covered soil.

    1. They provide quite the contrast, don’t they? And of course the plants are only half the story. There were other signs of life from my first visit — as well as evidence of those who hadn’t survived. The snails took quite a hit; I’ve never seen so many tiny snail shells in my life. I suppose they were on the plants when the fire moved through. Every time I visited, there were new things to see.

        1. One thing I’ve found reassuring is how carefully “escape routes” are planned for birds and animals, particularly in larger burns. Others simply head underground. The rapid reappearance of crawfish mounds was evidence enough that their bunkers were pretty darned effective.

            1. The cycle of the seasons is another example of the way apparent death and regeneration play out. Even in places without the traditional four seasons, people find ways to mark those cycles. In Liberia, it was dry season/rainy season, with two “stormy seasons” in between.

  4. Such a lovely inspirational piece. One “take away” I have is the importance of the burn. So much of our troubles can result in our purification. Sometimes tragedy can result in a shifting of one’s values, a dedication of purpose, an appreciation of beauty that has become stagnant or at least unappreciated. Even a small “burn” can help – something as small as a rousing fuss with my husband! Life is good. I love your pictures and song. The green will rise again. Lovely Easter lesson.

    1. Your description of a rousing fuss with your husband as a “small burn” tickled me, and reminded me of a phrase I don’t often hear these days: that someone “burns me up.” Learning to deal with those small burns certainly can lead to new growth.

      Of course, another purpose of prescribed burns is human safety. By reducing the amount of flammable material lying around, huge conflagrations are less likely. That’s worth pondering in terms of human relationships, too.

      Happy Easter, Oneta.

      1. Well I just arrived from my talk with you on “sit-a-bit” and find that I had read this blog but not this comment so I’m glad I came to check. Yes, I like your comment about the small burns that can help keep to much flammable material from accumulating, Just sputter a bit occasionally; avoid a big explosion! Do you suppose Sammy would know the difference in my sputtering and in nagging? :D

  5. The tiny hiccup of green can represent so many positive signs. It’s one of hope, one of holding on, one of encouragement, etc etc. I returned from ‘el oriente’ late today and will head to the coast tomorrow for the anniversary of the earthquake. This rising green can also represent all of those people who are moving forward after the quake.

    lovely photos, and it’s great to watch the time-lapse images.

    1. Your atmospheric photos from your recent travel certainly were beautiful, but the burned prairie reminded me that “atmosphere” isn’t only a matter of beauty. Or, more precisely, it’s a beauty that isn’t immediately obvious. Not at all “pretty,” it’s still compelling. I have a photo of a snail shell that will prove the point, one of these days.

      It’s wonderfully symbolic that the anniversary will be marked on Easter. Of course Easter is a movable feast, and occurred on March 27 last year, but I suspect there will be more than a few people this year associating Easter, regrowth, regeneration, and rebuilding with the process that’s been ongoing over the past months. I still remember a woman who snapped at a well-meaning, post-Ike volunteer, “We don’t need platitudes. We need persistence.” You’ve certainly been persistent in raising up the needs of survivors there — best wishes for a hopeful memorial day.

      1. It’s very sobering to live in a country where in a few hours one can go from high altitudes to sea level on one side, and to the upper tributaries of the Amazon on the other.. and go from a free and natural environment where people still leave expensive machines in the yard – and they’re still there the next day…. vs the uptick in stealing on the coast – where people are still enduring difficult challenges…. yet there is that lovely persistence in moving forward, even if it’s via small steps.

        I was surprised that so few people attended last night’s ‘misa’ but today at 6:58 there will be ceremonies most everywhere ….

        I hope that your day is going well! Thanks for all that you do for so many!

        1. I spent a lovely day on an old Texas sugar cane plantation, met my first yellow-bellied water snake, found ferns growing in trees, and introduced a friend to milkweed. What could be better?

          I’m looking forward to seeing your lantern photos. I hope that with this first year anniversary behind you, the moving forward can begin in earnest. Patience and persistence will pay dividends, I know.

          1. Ferns and trees make great friends! “Yellow-bellied water snake” makes me smile; I’ve photographed yellow-bellied snakes in the cloud forest – one day I was walking between the two houses and happened to look down – by some rote memory, I knew its name, then looked it up to confirm when I reached the house. Presently I cannot remember its name – but it’s been a very long day!

            Ii will be fun to compare species…

            The church and streets were crowded with people tonight,many were holding candles. Very tender gathering…

  6. I love this beautiful post, and am so glad you got a chance to chronicle the results of a burn. I’ve been enjoying the process for a few decades now, I realize with amazement. And I never tire of the miracle.

    1. For a few years, I’ve witnessed the recovery process on burned prairies, but I’ve always arrived at the point of knee-high grasses and birds singing on the limbs of scorched trees. This year, I went through burn training at one of our local nature preserves, hoping to actually participate, but circumstances didn’t allow the burns to take place. So, I started looking for other places, and this opportunity came up.

      It is an amazing process to watch. I can understand how you’ve never tired of it.

      1. Good for you to sign up! I did it years ago but don’t have the stamina anymore to participate. On more than one occasion I have arrived at a trail when the ground was still warm from a fire! That gives a primal feeling, a frisson of fear, even when you know it was controlled and a force of good.

        1. Even after five days, the impact of the burn was greater than I expected. It was akin to seeing the devastation after a hurricane, although not identical to that experience.

          Ironically, our large urban prairie had a non-prescribed burn this spring when something (maybe a lawn mower spark) ignited the grasses, and 30-50 acres burned. Even the best-laid plans, etc.

          1. Sometimes that happens here as well. My friend tells me that he remembers sparks from the steam engines on passing trains triggering fires at Illinois Beach State Park. And in Missouri there was a stretch of very healthy prairie that benefitted from teenagers setting fires every fall as a prank. Nobody told them they were doing a good thing! :)

            1. You’ve reminded me of another cause of fires I’d forgotten: sparks from chains dragging on the pavement behind vehicles. I don’t remember seeing that in some time now, but it used to be that every couple of months I’d see trucks (usually) dragging some chain. Apparently it’s much more common in forest fire territory: perhaps because of safety chains on logging trucks.

  7. I’ve often thought if we would allow the occasional controlled burn in our surrounding areas, we wouldn’t have such horrific fire seasons. I recall being a youngster visiting my grandmother in Albuquerque during a burn and the explanations made so much sense as to why they would be doing that.
    After the fire comes the rebirth.

    1. After I became interested in all this, I started following the blogs of people who are responsible for the management of fire on prairies, rangelands, timberlands, and even in urban environments. Chris Helzer, the Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska, writes fine posts like this . They’re obviously useful for professionals, but he also makes things understandable for people like me.

      You’re right: a good explanation can make sense of behavior that seems counter-intuitive, like lighting a fire. And, once people see the result, little more convincing is necessary. Of course, gaining the knowledge and skills to complete a burn safely are something else entirely.

  8. Linda, I was enthralled by the photographs that perfectly captured the evolution of a prairie rising from the ashes. Brings to mind the reason for Easter celebration. You put a lot of work into the post and it surely conveyed everything that I know you intended. The captions are so appropriate and timeless.

    This was created to perfection. I really enjoyed it. Mention a prairie and I remember and can still imagine the smell of fresh cut prairie hay on my grandfather’s prairie. It was probably only about 6-7 acres. Fortunately it is still there and no trees have invaded as of about 10 years ago. The prairie was cut yearly for the wonderful hay.

    1. Locals called Nash Prairie, in Brazoria County, the “hay meadow” for years. Decades, actually. It never has been plowed, only cut for the hay now and then. In fact, I think I remember hearing that hay from the Nash was used to feed the bison at Armand Bayou Nature Center, because of its quality. Freshly-cut lawns do smell good, but they can’t compete with freshly-cut hay.

      I learned something last week that’s so obvious I can’t believe I’ve never thought of it. A prairie-person was explaining that fences were one of the factors that led to the rise of invasives on the prairie. Birds perched on the fences — especially barbed wire — and dropped the seeds they’d consumed earlier. That’s once reason that growth along fence lines can be so thick. It’s not just that it’s difficult to mow.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Yvonne.. Sometimes, it was hard not to show something I found, but I knew it would be better to wait until I could show more of the process. Now, I can go back, and write about each of my visits separately.

      1. Thanks Linda. I always enjoy reading about nature and I’m so glad that you have stepped off into this area. Your words are so fitting of what ever you subject matter might be. I’ll be looking forward to your posts about each visit.

    1. Thank you, Pete. It is an extraordinary process, and one well worth learning about.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the images, too. I certainly never imagined I’d be out mucking about in ashes and sloughs to get photos. After my third visit (when the spider lilies were blooming in the wet areas), I came home and googled “quicksand in Texas.” There wasn’t any quicksand out there, but I’d never had the experience of mud trying to suck the boots right off my feet.

    1. It’s true. In more extreme instances, like Mt. Saint Helens, the recovery process is more complicated and takes more time, but the dynamic is the same. Helping people understand the process is important, because there are things we can do to help it along.

  9. That was a very nice presentation. I have friends to the SW of Iowa City who manage several acres of prairie. I sent them your link.

    In my backyard here in town I have two clumps of tall grass. The largest is only about two feet across. Each spring, I have a ceremonial ‘prairie burn’ when there is no wind and very dry. They burn with high intensity but only for a couple of minutes. There are now green shoots coming up.

    1. Both you and your friends might enjoy this post, too. In fact, Chris’s blog is filled with good information about every aspect of prairie management. I’m sure much of it’s familiar, but it never hurts to have someone else’s perspective. Chris is particularly good at presenting complicated material in an easy-to-understand way, which I certainly appreciate.

      Your ceremonial burn reminded me of the recent burn at the demonstration prairie at the University of Houston/Clear Lake Environmental Institute. There’s a neat series of photos here that you’ll enjoy.

      1. We enjoyed your post. I am familiar with the tune set to difference lyrics as a Christmas carol, but this is very nice. Perhaps next year our Praise Band can try this version at Easter. This year our feature piece is “Resurrection Dreamin” – California Dreamin’ with some lyrics altered.
        We missed the burn “Window” this year, but need to burn our prairie soon…
        Thanks you for your very nice post and thanks to Jim R for alerting us to your blog.

        1. I’ve always known the tune as a Christmas song, too. I do enjoy it, so it’s nice to have it used in another way.

          I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Whether large or small, prairies are fascinating places, and worth the effort to restore and maintain. Houston is in the process of developing several “pocket prairies” that can be used as demonstration plots and teaching tools. One is at the Texas Medical Center — as urban as you can get. The good news is that hundreds or people — or thousands, or more — can learn from it.

          A happy Easter season to you. Enjoy your prairie!

  10. Many prairies here, big and small, private and public, were lit up in the past several weeks. Comments of “I smell something burning” were often heard. Standing full faced at a large stretch of scorched earth is supposed to be unnerving. It’s the loud whisper of “all and nothing”. Then you wait for life to return.

    My thoughts are with those who live in landscapes of total devastation where a tiny flower, a blade of leaf would be heaven sent.

    1. I very rarely smell something burning here, although it can happen if the wind is just right. More commonly, I go to work and find very fine black ash on the boats. It’s amazing how far the wind can carry it. Ash from this fire made it to Clear Lake the evening of the burn. I was glad my varnish had dried.

      “Unnerving” is a good word, but what surprised me most of all on my first visit was how many signs of life already had appeared. Granted, most weren’t obvious from a standing position, but from ground level, they could be seen. Some of my photos are fairly bad, but they’ll get shared, anyway, just because they document things I would have considered improbable, at best.

    1. Thanks so much. It is a time of renewal, indeed, and even in the smallest garden, things like weeding and raking away thatch mimic the large-scale activity of prairie management. Large or small scale, the results are the same: increased health for the environment, and beauty for us.

    1. Two things impressed me over the weeks: the knowledge and skill of the people who do this work, and the rapidity with which the changes took place. I realized early on that a weekly trip wouldn’t do; I’d have to go down about every four or five days, or I’d miss too much.

      Before long, I hardly could wait to make another trip (it’s just under an hour’s drive, one way). Then, I started wishing I could show the process to other people. Well, here we are. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks!

    1. Of course, we all have our ways of understanding these things. You certainly understand nature; your garden proves that. But I’d call the seasonal emergence of your flowers and trees miraculous, too.

      I suppose if I got started, I’d add in birdsong, and breath, and butterflies, and… Well, you get the point. I’m just one of those life-as-miracle sorts.

      1. Perhaps “incredible” (as in almost unbelievable; ) could be used as alternate? And I would add bees – heck insectae in general – to your list as well.
        Life is so complex and totally interconnected… (6° of separation on the Grande Scale?: )

        1. I’ll stick with miraculous myself — partly because I think there’s a difference between the miraculous and the incredible, but also because I’ve heard “incredible” used so often the word’s been drained of all meaning for me. In that sense, it’s like “awesome.” I hear “awesome” used for everything from really nice chocolate cupcakes to a particularly nice tee-shirt. I’m probably insensitive, but cupcakes and tees don’t bring a sense of awe, no matter how nice they may be.

          Besides, the more I learn about the complexity and interconnectedness of the world, the more credible those connections and complexities become. They certainly are, as the word suggests, “worthy to be believed.”

          1. “I’m probably insensitive, but cupcakes and tees don’t bring a sense of awe, no matter how nice they may be.”

            What a great statement. Slap that on a tee. I bet it would be awesome.

            Kidding aside, I’d say the ship, if not sailed, is unmoored regarding the use and love of language. Not that I’m so great, but I often bark at younger people who seem determined to use as few syllables as possible. We may be reverting to grunts for communication.

            1. That gave me a laugh. The comment’s probably too long for a tee, but I suppose it could be split, front and back.

              There are days when I’d prefer grunts to what I hear. I’m not exactly the grammar police. I’d rather model than criticize. But I lament the loss of coherent sentences, and general graciousness. I don’t often frequent fast food places, but in the summer I’ll go to Chick-Fil-A for their frosty lemonades. When you thank one of their order takers, they say, “My pleasure.” Of course it’s what they’re told to say, but I like it.

              Some of it comes down to manners. Being polite — saying “please,” and “thank you,” and opening doors or tipping a hat — just makes a day feel nicer. If we could teach the young ‘uns to say “You’re welcome” rather than “No problem,” we might still save the world.

  11. I’ve read about trays shaped like the god Osiris, filled with earth and sown with wheat, which were buried in Egyptian tombs. In the darkness of the tomb, the wheat would sprout, the hope being that by sympathetic magic, so too would the dead live again. ( http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/funerary_practices/funerary_objects.htm#osiris_beds ) As much as we like to think our own beliefs are special and unique, the god who dies in the winter, is buried and regenerates to life again in the spring is a belief as old as humanity.

    I like how you tie the pictures to the hymn verses — and that repetitive phrase, “like wheat arising green.”

    I recently watched BBC series on YouTube about life on a Tudor farm, and life on a Victorian farm, and both series brought home again how dependent life once was upon the harvest, and how close to the edge people used to live. “Like wheat arising green” would have had a powerful impact on people who were at the mercy of the weather and who were always just one crop away from starvation.

    1. Being at the mercy of the weather still is a reality. The 1930s aren’t that long ago, and the achingly poignant photos from the Dust Bowl point to realities Tudor and Victorian farmers would have understood. We’ve learned a good bit about coping with cycles of drought, and how good farming practices can minimize their damage, but still — during our last serious Texas drought, you could feel it it the air: the tension, the nervousness, and the longing for the rain that would allow the wheat, and everything else, to begin “arising green.”

      I’d not heard about those Osirus-shaped trays. My first, odd thought? I wonder if they planted trays of greens in cat-shaped trays, for their felines? As for the death-and-resurrection myths, of course you’re right. And not all the myths involved male gods. Persephone comes to mind. I don’t know how things are looking in your neighborhood, but I’d say Persephone is back among us.

  12. Linda, your methodical approach to your stories makes them much more informative. Having watched the Refuge burn on a number of occasions, I can only say it’s remarkable how quickly almost all visible evidence vanishes under the never ending growth of greenery.

    1. After I saw that rapid regrowth for myself, I understood why I’ve missed it in the past. I’d hear someone say, “They burned this or that section of prairie,” and would assume that I had plenty of time to see the results. Not so much.

      The prettiest regrowth I’ve ever seen was at San Bernard, near the Moccasin Pond Loop. It looked like cut velvet: grasses and sedges combined in beautiful patterns.

  13. Although green and brown are not complementary colors, in your post they are reciprocally unified and apt symbols for the evolutionary process of rebirth. The Phoenix, too, reminds us that we can remake ourselves after coming through the fire of life.

    1. Your comment reminded me how interesting word choice can be in some of these matters. It’s common to hear at Easter that Jesus “rose from the dead” (in fact, that’s the phrase enshrined in the Creeds), but this hymn uses a different and increasingly common phrase: that he “was raised.” Likewise, there’s a strong tradition within Christianity that we don’t re-make ourselves, but are re-made. It’s one of those little distinctions-with-a-difference that can fill up an evening with interesting discussion: particularly if there’s a nice wine at hand and congenial company.

      It’s interesting, too, how many good songs have employed ashes imagery. The Moody Blues’ “The Story in Your Eyes is one. Sometimes, I wish groups like theirs would make like a Phoenix and rise up. Much of today’s music wouldn’t have a chance.

  14. Such a beautiful. hope-filled, and timely post, Linda! I realize these controlled burns are necessary, but part of me grieves at their having to do it. I’m glad to learn nature is resilient, though, and will find a way to make the best of the situation. Happy Easter to you and yours!

    1. Debbie, the great irony is that, for a whole variety of reasons, we were the ones who put a stop to much of the healthy, natural fire in our world. Just as damming rivers had unintended consequences, so did the suppression of fire. Much of what’s being done now is an attempt to undo damage that went unrecognized for decades; the good news is that we may be able to slow prairie loss, and perhaps reverse it to a degree.

      I think one of the most important things we can do is get kids outside again. If the work being done now is going to endure, we need new generations who understand its importance. But right now, it’s time to celebrate. I hope you have a blessed Easter, and a beautiful spring.

  15. This is both fascinating and beautiful. I love the music and you’re right — it’s perfect for both. And I believe nature IS a miracle. One of those things that reminds us again and again that there is hope and resurgence.

    A lovely and perfect seasonal post.

    1. I was fascinated by a good bit, Jeanie — from how soft and deep the ashes were, to how soon the crawdads began rebuilding their homes.

      While fire and regrowth are one kind of resurgence, the cycles of nature are another. I’m thinking about Harry, and all your birds and blooms that are so eagerly awaited during the winter. Harry comes and he goes, the trees grow leaves, and then they fall — and then we do it all over again. It’s reassuring, and almost comforting. I hope those recurring cycles finally have rolled into your world — it makes it easier for the bicyclists!

    1. Many thanks, Becca. You’ve reminded me of one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems:

      Hope is the thing with feathers
      That perches in the soul,
      And sings the tune without the words,
      And never stops at all,

      And sweetest in the gale is heard;
      And sore must be the storm
      That could abash the little bird
      That kept so many warm.

      I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
      And on the strangest sea;
      Yet, never, in extremity,
      It asked a crumb of me.

      A happy, hope-filled Easter to you.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Wendy, and thank you for your comment. I think you’ll enjoy the Dickinson poem I posted just above, in my comment to Becca. It’s a lovely one for the season. Happy Easter to you.

    1. I was told it was rather unusual to have burns on the Tallgrass when I was there in October. Combined with the dust from the soybean harvest, the smoke certainly gave most of my photos a strange, muted quality. But it was quite an experience to see that smoke rising over the hills, often from many, many miles away, and I was lucky enough to see some of the first regrowth. It was as amazing there as it is here, of course.

      A happy Easter to you, and every good wish for a beautiful spring!

  16. The burn-offs are popular in Australia too. It is suppose to stop bush-fires when too much fuel load is banking up in native forests. It is always amazing when an entire area is burned out how quickly nature recovers.
    Very nice post, Linda. I Love your juxtaposition of the writing with photos. A joy to read and an elixir of hope amidst world’s chaos.

    1. I know very little about fire and forestry, but this small note from the American Forest Association sounds as though it would be in your country, too:

      “Over the last century, the United States has had a policy of fire suppression due to the risks wildfires pose to humans and communities. Unfortunately, this policy has led to unhealthy, overly-dense forest conditions, the loss of unique, fire-dependant ecosystems, and a degraded wildlife habitat. Without controlled fire, forests are less resilient, creating the potential for catastrophic wildfire events.”

      Even after large-scale natural events, recovery comes — albeit slowly at times.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Gerard. It was quite the experience, traveling to the prairie each week without any idea of what I would find, and great fun putting everything together in a way that could communicate the dramatic transformation.

    1. You’re welcome. I was pleased to find a way to weave a few threads together — with not a little help from nature herself. Now the trick is to remember that, like Spring, Easter is a season, not a day.

  17. A fitting post for Easter weekend.

    Our region has some of the last remnants of an Oak Savannah that stood between the western prairies and the eastern forests. The Savannah protected the Great Woods by absorbing and quelling fires that raced the winds across the prairie. I have seen those fires near the Cattle Pens Exit in the Flint Hills of Kansas (a place you have written about) and can hardly imagine what they would have been like on the original prairie. One wonders how the Lakota structured their lives to deal with them.

    1. You’ve reminded me of a passage from Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

      ““At the time of Lewis and Clark, setting the prairies on fire was a well-known signal that meant, ‘Come down to the water.’ It was an extravagant gesture, but we can’t do less. If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation.”

      Until I began learning about today’s prescribed fires, I had no idea that Native Americans also used fire as a tool. It’s a bit of an irony that the prairies’ development was due, in part, to their burning. As the woody plants were pushed back, the grasses came in. Then, the settlers showed up, began fencing, and the trees and other woody plants regained their foothold.

      I’ve had this article in my files. It’s simple enough for kids to understand, but quite interesting.

      One of these days, I want to see one of those big burns. It’s on the list!

  18. What an inspiring post; just perfect for Easter.

    Isn’t Mother Nature amazing? You’d think that all the damage would last so much longer than it does.

    1. One of my favorite YouTube finds was this slide show of wildflowers in Hiroshima Prefecture. Every now and then I watch it — just because.

      I really enjoyed putting the post together. It was an interesting experience to do a long-term project, and I always found something unusual or intriguing when I went down to the prairie. There still are some fun stories to tell, so there’s another series to come — with a slighty different slant.

    1. Isn’t it a wonderful contrast? I was so intrigued by the way the new growth began: a blade here, a blade there. And it was like a grand guessing game to see bits of green pushing up, then try to figure out what they might be. I can identify many more plants than I could three years ago, but trying to identify them by their shoots is something else.

      You’re going to love the plant that turned out to be an insect. There are darned weird things going on out there in the world!

  19. We did a tiny burn every so often at our children’s school prairie garden in Illinois, but seeing the scorched earth here in your photos is even more illustrative than being at ours in person! I don’t know if it was the hymn or the photos or the combination, but I was truly moved by your post today. The Feb 5 shot, in particular, brought me a measure of hope and joy that my perennial optimism could not. Such a beautiful post in every way.

    1. I didn’t realize that school prairie gardens are so widespread. I’ve just learned about the movement to develop them here in Texas, and now you’ve added Illinois to the mix. It’s really wonderful that kids have the opportunity to work with them.

      Being at a fire is one kind of experience; watching the regeneration is another. It was that February 5 visit that helped me realize I shouldn’t write about the prairie until more time had passed. I very nearly posted the first photo for Ash Wednesday, but decided it might imprint that single image on peoples’ minds as the definition of “prairie burn,” and I didn’t want to do that.

      Like you, I tend toward optimism, but I’ve learned over the years that hope and joy and persist even when reasons for optimism fade. That’s a bit of a mystery, too, but it’s no less real than the prairie.

  20. This is almost watching creation of life. What an excellent and very revealing series of photos. It’s quite amazing how from nothing suddenly there is a flicker of life, from black to green, from darkness to light.

    1. Everyone loves watching a garden come back to life, or discovering wildflowers in a spring landscape, but this was somehow different. Even though it was planned, it was a little shocking when I first saw it. But the more I looked, the more tiny bits of interesting life I saw: those little flickers of life, and even the beauty of death — a paradox, if ever there was one.

    1. That’s the heart of the Easter message: that life always has the final word. Granted, that’s a grand statement of faith rather than an established fact, but there are clues here and there that it might be true. I think this prairie is one.

  21. I see that I’m the 50th-or-so follower to comment and I almost didn’t, so as not to burden you further with yet another reply–but then again, I’d really like to let you know how much I am enjoying this post. We drove through Yellowstone a couple of decades ago, shortly after the wildfires had had their way, and I recall having wanted to stop for a closer look at new growth, but my wife and young daughters were eager to continue on to the day’s goal, so I let it go–but some of the details that I glimpsed out the window still haunt me. Thanks for this lovely study.

    1. Oh, my. Responding to comments never is a burden for me. The only reason I’m a bit late in responding now is that, when you left your comment last night, I was right in the middle of trying to cope with the fact that I’d just accidentally erased about 400 photos from my camera’s card before getting them on the computer. I knew what had happened as soon as I’d done it, but I was nearly as desolate as those first photos of the prairie.

      The good news is that I got a tip from a friend, downloaded a spiffy little restore program, and have 90% of the images back — including every one that was important to me. I’m going to try never to do that again, but at least if it happens, I know what to do.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. During the first couple of visits, I used my macro lens the most. There was evidence of life from the beginning, but it wasn’t anything you could see from a car. Sometimes, it wasn’t even evident from a standing position — getting “down and dirty” in the midst of the ashes was the order of the day. After some rains came, and the lilies began to bloom, things got trickier. It was hard to walk, impossible to sit down, and I had visions of losing my balance and having the camera land in the muck.

      One of these days, I’ll post some of my favorite macro shots, and tell the story of the fungus that wasn’t. It was a great experience — one worth every hour I spent there.

        1. It was a trauma, no doubt about that. Thank goodness I went ahead and mentioned it to someone who knows much more about such things than I did. From the time I found out I could restore them until the deed was done was only about three hours — but it took me a week to really get over it. These “live and learn” experiences can be a little trying.

    1. It is amazing, isn’t it? Even when destruction isn’t involved (as in the movement from winter to spring) the dynamic is reassuring, and full of pleasures. I’m glad you like the photos, too. I wish I could have gathered everyone up and gone for a walk, but since that’s not possible, the photos aren’t a bad substitute.

  22. Hi there – such a beautifully crafted piece here, with so many elements that combine seamlessly – not least being your photographs. Although they’re all really well done, I’m taken with the 3/19 one where the horizon is seen behind those blackened tree branches – so interesting. I’m glad your curiosity kept taking you back and I look forward to the next post about this place.

    1. I had a hard time figuring out how to present all this. On the one hand, the details are fascinating, but presenting some of my favorite details without any context didn’t seem right. On the other hand, it was hard to figure out how to present the scale of it all. For that, I finally decided that mixing elements was the way to go: hence, the horizon with the branches. Impressive as acres of ash can be, it’s not necessarily photo-fodder.

      It’s not every place that yields up such interesting souvenirs. Along with a small ruby glass bottle from Spain, I have a blue crawfish shell, and a half-dozen photos I really like. That’s a fine return on the investment of time.

  23. Well, that was just delightful! Thank you so much for this, which will feed me as I ready myself for Easter 2 tomorrow. This is surely one of my favourite Easter hymns, and is so meaningful on a number of levels. I really think it to be a bit of a “bridge” hymn, one that allows those who believe otherwise to see something of the hope that sustains us. As an aside, another bit about this hymn that I love is that the phrase “love is come again” shows us that English once, like German and French, used the present (is) to mark the past perfect for certain verbs. I always had a hard time remembering that while learning those languages, and now wish that I had thought upon this hymn as an aid – for that and the dark night of the soul that learning languages can be!

    1. It’s a wonderful hymn, isn’t it? I can’t remember when I first heard it, but the joining of the words to the tune of “Noel Nouvelet” is perfect. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is another of those “bridge” hymns that I’ve always loved, along with many of the early Christmas carols, like “People, Look East.” I’ve always thought one of the strengths of Lutheran worship is our willingness to draw from many traditions: something I suppose would surprise some and scandalize others.

      I hadn’t thought about the use of “is,” except to note that it seems particularly graceful. Now that I am thinking about it, it seems to describe an on-going action: intiated in the past, but active in the present. Of course, that may be inching away from grammar toward theology — but there’s nothing wrong with that, either!

  24. You’re outdoing yourself with your photography. These photos do a wonderful job of capturing the evolution of regrowth.

    1. I’m glad you think so, Bella — many thanks. As you might imagine, I ended up with a passle of photos. I deleted half immediately, and half of the remainder not long after. Then, it was a matter of choosing. A few of them aren’t as sharp as I’d like, but I did manage not to fall down, not to bury the camera in the mud, and not to fill my car up with wind-blown ashes. I was happy enough with that!

  25. Those images demonstrate that Life Force that is in the earth. Your photos fit perfectly with the song, which is new to me – I want to learn the words, which are sung to a tune I know only from a Kingston Trio record, “Sing We Noel.” It is a good one to sing all the way to Pentecost, and even beyond :-) Yes, your whole post is truly a reminder of the truth of Easter, also spoken of in Romans 8: “… he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

    I like that King James word “quicken,” which seems more vivid a description of what happens when the blessed rain falls on the brown seeds and roots in the blackened ground and shockingly, green shoots spring up! That’s what I have found happening in my heart that has areas such as the song mentions, “Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been…”

    Thank you so very much for a meditation of hope and joy. Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

    1. Here’s an even more lovely version of “Noel Nouvelet,” performed by the King’s Singers. Renaissance carols seem to have a special lilt to them; this one certainly does. There’s a bit of history about it here.

      I noticed again in your comment another difference in our traditions. In your post, you included “Indeed, He is risen” as a response to “Christ is risen,” and here you’ve used the phrase “Truly He is risen.” In the Lutheran tradition, the phrasing is “He is risen, indeed.” There’s no difference in meaning, but it’s interesting that the liturgical phrase developed differently.

      As for “quicken,” when did we stop using “quickening” for the first stirrings of life felt by a pregnant woman? It’s another of those felicitous phrases that may not have been heard spoken by anyone under fifty — or sixty, or seventy, for that matter. When I looked up the etymology of “quick,” I had another surprise; “quicksand” is “living sand.” That makes perfect sense.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and found a song to keep. Isn’t it wonderful that Easter is a season, and not a day?

      1. I think this year I figured out why we often say, “Indeed, He is risen,” or “In truth, He is risen,” instead of “He is risen indeed!” The exuberance of Pascha in contrast to the “bright sadness” and slower, quieter hymns of Lent encourage us to shout the answer to the clergy in the services Bright Week especially, and when the InDEED or In TRUTH is at the beginning of the phrase it makes for a more emphatic burst than if we start out with “He is…” But in our one-on-one greeting of each other throughout the 40 days until Ascension, we exchange various permutations, usually more quietly. :-)

        And yes, I am SO glad about Eastertide being a thing! Being our high holiday, it requires more than a day, for sure.

    1. A friend in Alberta, Canada, recently posted about the snow remaining there. Of course, hers is lingering snow, not fresh. I suspect you’ll be happy when your own green emerges! Documenting changes over time was an interesting experience; I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.

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