Burned Into Memory

To pass through a fire-ravaged world — eyes stinging in the smoky haze; feet sinking and twisting in the soft and shifting ash; lips tight against bitter, blowing grit  — is to risk being consumed by irrational certainties: convinced, perhaps, that such desolation, such destruction, will last forever.  Even when burns scheduled for prairie management have been carefully planned and implemented with precision, the sight of the bleak and apparently lifeless land sears the mind as surely as the earth itself has been seared.

Knowing that regeneration is certain, and understanding that natural processes already begun will heal the damage to the land, is some comfort, and seeking comfort by focusing on that certainty of regrowth is natural.

Even so, the impulse to turn away from the present void in order to focus on a more verdant future risks missing out on strange, unexpected beauties stirring amid the ashes: beauty created not only in spite of the damage,  but also because of it. 

In telling the story of A Rising Green, I found it difficult to decide which photographs would best document the early, post-burn recovery of one piece of Brazoria prairie. In the end, I choose more straightforward images for that piece, and set aside my favorites to offer now as a sort of postscript. Like the tiny, ruby-red glass bottle from Spain I plucked from the ashes, these details might have remained hidden forever. Now, they are among my most cherished memories.

Where mysterious heaps of mixed sand and soil dotted the prairie, a combination of rain (and perhaps wind) sculpted fabulous patterns. Here and there, as in the upper left corner, the impression of leaves lingered: soon to disappear.

In the late afternoon light, remnants of charred plants glowed with the intensity of true fire: a multitude of tiny bonfires lighting the land.

Lavender, pewter, and silver stems seemed dotted with bits of mercury, or molten silver. Delicate and unexpected, they shimmered with astonishing beauty.

While thousands of tiny white snail shells were scattered across the prairie, larger shells also were present. This one, burnished by fire, might have been made by a fine silversmith.

The emergence of the first spider lilies was astonishing, partly because of their numbers. Hundreds of plants appeared over the course of a few days: their buds sometimes opening so quickly they gave the appearance of time-lapse photography.

Even the buds seemed to mimic the flames that had raced across the prairie only weeks earlier: an interesting contrast to the flooded conditions in which they stood.

Once flowers appeared, ants, moths, hover flies, and spiders followed. Strands of silk draped from plant to plant bore witness to their travels through their emerging world.

As spider lilies began to fade, the common rush (Juncus effusus) added welcome color to the prairie.

Clearly, rushes and sedges were more than willing to follow the lead of the spider lilies and bloom extravagantly.

Eventually, the grasses followed. Some I knew, like little bluestem, and silver bluestem. In their midst, Indian paintbrush, goldenrod, blue mistflower, prairie parsley, and other flowers began to emerge, coaxed into bloom by an extra helping of sunlight and warmth.

Over the coming months and years, the prairie will continue to evolve. Much-beloved flowers and grasses will return, each in their season. Creatures who depend upon them for food and shelter will reestablish their homes, and the cycle of life will go on.

Today, any casual passer-by, seeing the prairie for the first time, will see it as it should be seen: dressed in the blues and greens of summer; refreshed by sunlight, and washed by rain. But behind what is lies that which was: a collection of strange and unexpected beauties — arrested flames, silvered shells, and the first, tenuous threads of life, spun in the midst of a recovering world.

Rainshaft above the summer prairie

Comments always are welcome.


95 thoughts on “Burned Into Memory

    1. I suppose that, as with other things, ‘benign’ is in the eye of the beholder. The Grenfell Tower fire certainly wasn’t benign, and even in nature there are fires that do tremendous damage. But fire always has been a natural phenomenon on the prairies, until we showed up and declared it phenomenon non grata. Bringing it back, and learning the art and science of prescribed burning, has been a very good thing: a little unnerving to see, but good.

  1. What fascinating photos and post. Knowing it was a controlled burn makes it easier to appreciate the beauty in them. Last summer I took a hike through a woods that had had a controlled burn only I didn’t know it was a controlled burn until I got home and did some research. It was eerie knowing destruction must come to bring about new growth.

    1. Prescribed burns aren’t only important to bring new growth. They also help to get rid of fuel that can intensify fires. We had a bad one here in 2011, when Bastrop State Park burned. Historically, there were fires every five to seven years in that area that destroyed shrubs and other fire fuel, but after settlers moved in, fires began to be suppressed. When that happens, you essentially grow a nice crop of kindling, and any fire that starts can be extraordinarily difficult to control.

      In a way, the cycle of destruction and new growth resembles the seasons. Gardens don’t bloom or produce thoughout the year. They live their lives, produce their fruit and seed, and then die back — until the next time.

    1. Believe me, it wasn’t easy to finish this last night while I was watching the SkyNews reports from London. I’ll be interested in the final reports from that event.

      As for hope? I’ve always liked this line from Pablo Neruda: “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”

  2. Heartening. This is just plain wonderful, Linda. Wonderful photos and a perfectly crafted essay. And you have the gift of timing, also, delivering a lovely and memorable pick-me-up. There have been waves of disheartening events lately for our country. Burning the Paris Accord – – so many Americans cannot abide “accordance” right now, in the sense of agreement, or following the rules, or staying true to the spirit. So many people seem incapable of a belief in being harmonious, with nature or each other. So your photos and essay aren’t only elegant, they’re also heartening. That’s the word of the day – Thank you!

      1. The silver snail is my favorite, and I think the charred but still glowing plants might be next on my list. The single stem intrigues me. I need to find someone who can explain how fire can create such an unusual effect. I’ve watched a lot of leaves, wood, and cane fields burn in my time, but I’ve never seen anything like that.

        1. Maybe a fire department investigator? But I don’t know any. Every time my father gets frustrated doing a home repair, he threatens to “just burn the place down for the insurance money, it would be quicker,” so I’ll check if he knows any arsonists who could answer your question.

          1. Actually, that’s a great idea. I’ll stop by our fire station and ask the guys there. Did you ever see the video with our fire department dancing? I used it in the past. Here it is — they show up at 0:58. Interesting that the lyrics include the line, “We are all the glowing embers of a distant fire.”

    1. “Heartening” is a wonderful compliment. Dare I say I’m heartened by it?

      Your words about our unwillingness to enter into accord with one another are particularly relevant after today’s events. I made the mistake of browsing social media this morning, and I’m still trying to recover from the things I read. So. It’s time to turn away from all that, hope that the victims recover, and give thanks that the world, at least, shows us what it means to recover from trauma with grace and elegance.

  3. What a lovely post and the images are simply stunning. I thought of my life as I perused your words and viewed the photos. Our journey is often wrought with barrenness and catastrophic events, but on the other side or just beneath there is growth and determination that we would not have known before the experience. That image of the snail shell, “burnished by fire”, is the radiance of all who have passed through and endured those fires of life.

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? The experiences that are the most painful, or the most life-altering, often are the very experiences that reveal qualities we never imagined we possessed. I especially like your interpretation of the snail shell. It was such a beautiful thing, I very nearly picked it up to bring it home with me. Then, I decided that it deserved to stay right where it was. I like remembering it there — and I have the photo to help me do that.

      1. Goodness you did what I would have done – just left it be and photographed it. Somehow special treasures like that just aren’t the same in a different setting. It’s funny but when I’m on a jaunt to the river I often find skulls, but I only take the ones that I “feel” ok about taking. Some are best left in their resting place, amid what was their home. I like that you gave the shell some thought. I think that is wise in any situation where we find treasure, to consider our intentions and any gut feelings that may tug at us.

  4. Weaning from the images of the barren landscape to those lovely spider lilies – wow! How I loved driving the rain-soaked Louisiana back roads and appreciating such simple-yet-elegant flowers! Thanks for the reunion!

    I understand totally about that prized ruby-red bottle – does it perch on a window sill and hold nosegays?

    1. Actually, the ruby-red bottle perches on a window sill and holds a nice, round plant gall about the size of a marble you’d use as a shooter. A little quirky, perhaps, but the gall doesn’t fade like a nosegay would.

      You would have been amazed by the profusion of lilies after the burn. I’m used to seeing them in the ditches, but I’d never seen an entire field filled with them, stretching to the horizon. The bloom went on for two-three weeks; it truly was remarkable. Apparently everything conspired to make it remarkable: the burn, enough rain to flood the fields and keep them moist, and relatively cool weather to keep the blooms fresh. They do make a drive enjoyable, don’t they?

  5. Your exquisite narration of your photo montage reminded me of the educational films we watched in school in the fifties and early sixties called Nature’s Half-Acre. Thus, we were comforted by what might appear to be a harsh event–fire in the forest, bullies in the bush, or death in the den.

    1. I remember needing some comfort after seeing “Bambi.” Even today, some of nature’s realities can be hard to take. Yesterday, one of my favorite mallards showed up with an injured foot. He spent the whole day on the dock, not feeding at all. Whether he can swim, I don’t know. The impulse to do something can be nearly overwhelming, but there are times when letting nature take its course is best. A day of rest next to the hose I left dripping may have helped, especially if the foot or leg only is sprained. I’m hoping to find improvement when I go to work this morning.

      1. I agree. Now that I am older I cannot watch televisions shows, such as PBS Nature, if an innocent little bunny is going to be torn to bits by a wolf. I just don’t have the stomach for it. What a sap I have become.

  6. Lovely…and I read about the London fire first, so lovely and I am so sad for all the people affected by the London fire. Your post is about the resilience of the land and the return of the healthy prairie and survival…..thank you.

    1. The difference between naturally-occurring fires and unnatural fire can be extreme. I thought for a bit about how carefully planned prescribed prairie fires are, and how little care seems to have been taken in the case of the London tower. Just as prairie managers learn from every burn, perhaps those in charge of housing (around the world, not only in London) can learn something from that terrible event, and minimize the chances of it happening again.

  7. Oh my, this is quite emotional, Linda! So beautifully illustrated and explained. Your attention to detail, like capturing that silver snail shell, is purely wondeful. Nature is trully astounding and its need to survive, and you have documented it so perfectly. No wonder these images are amongst your most cherished. Thank you so much for sharing :)

    1. Sometimes putting an experience into words is difficult, precisely because the best experiences include emotion as well as intellect. I’m glad that a bit of this prairie experience communicated itself.

      It often is that the details make the difference. Sometimes I think we’re blinded by our expectations as much as by anything else. When I went onto the burned prairie, I didn’t have any expectations about what I would see. Perhaps that helped me to spot things like that snail shell: a truly glorious remnant. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and the post as a whole.

  8. There was a ferocious blaze in the hills just west of town a year or two after we moved here…the smoke billowed overhead and darkened the sky for days. And even while rebirth (at least at ground level) is now visible on a drive up Poudre Canyon, the trees that covered those hills will stand as ghostly testament for years to come. Still, it’s comforting to know that nature will bring even the forest back, though the timeframe may be more than my brief lifespan will allow.

    Great pictures!

    1. A Montana photographer I follow has talked about recovery after forest fires, and he makes the same point you have. Like prairies, forests will recover, too. It just takes longer, and is in some ways a more complicated process. But fires are a natural part of their cycle of life, and human attempts to eliminate all fires sometimes causes a different set of problems.

      When I was in Arkansas last fall, I happened upon a portion of forest that had burned. How long ago, I don’t know, but it was remarkable to see the skeletons of the trees surrounded by blooming wildflowers and serving as perches for birds. It wasn’t precisely beautiful, at least in an aesthetic sense, but it surely was interesting.

    1. Sunlight and shadow, darkness and light, greening and charred — in each case, both are necessary. Granted, it can be tough to appreciate the shadow, the dark, and the charred, but they’re part of the big picture, too. I’m happy you found some beauty here!

  9. What a wonderful countryside we have. Your catch of the image of the charred plants is nothing less than miraculous!! A fantastic post all the way around!!

    1. Thanks, GP. It is a wonderful countryside, indeed — no matter which part of the country we’re in. Taking the time for a closer look is so valuable. A very few years ago, I never could have imagined that there could be such beauty on the prairie before it filled back in with grasses and flowers, but that was just silly, inexperienced me!

  10. Such a hope-filled post, Linda! I love how Nature regenerates itself, provided we get out of her way. That silver snail is lovely, as is the shot of the grasses. They almost look like they’re wrapped in aluminum foil!

    1. I never would have thought of aluminum foil, but now that you’ve suggested it, I see it. There certainly was a lot more sparkle and shine than I expected to see after the burn. You can add the water to the list of sparkle-and-shiners, too. All of the photos of spider lilies were taken in the midst of flooded land, while I tried my darndest not to lose my footing and land splat! in the muck.

      Now, if we just could find a way for Nature to regenerate your maple tree!

    1. It certainly does apply, Kayti — although in this case it doesn’t have that tinge of comeuppance-getting that sometimes clings to the phrase. I’ve not been back down to the prairie for a few weeks. I think I might make a quick trip and see what’s appeared. There surely will be some new things “coming around.”

  11. Out of utter devastation (controlled, but still…) emerges new life, lush and turgid. The photos are gorgeous–prairie renewed.

    1. Well, mostly-controlled, anyway. There’s always the sudden wind shift to make things interesting. But, yes: whether from planned or unplanned burns, the result is lush new growth. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. It’s about time to make another run down the coast and see how things look.

    1. Thank you, Sheryl. I’m sure you’ve had your own experience with fire — in your “neighborhood,” if not directly. It’s easier to appreciate fire as one of nature’s creative forces when it isn’t headed for the edge of a town — or the back porch. I used to laugh at a friend in the hill country here who had a good portion of the hilltop around his home cleared of all cedar and brush. Now, I understand his reasoning, although I’m glad the new owner of the land is allowing a few trees and shrubs to come back.

  12. Beautiful pictures drawn together with woven thoughts. I’m glad you pointed me to revisiting “The Rising Green.” Thank you. I’ve been reading a book about the purpose of suffering and realizing how true it has been in my life that a “burn” has always ended in a refinement of character and purpose. (I think. I hope others would see that in me.) However, I do not look forward to more even though I believe that is almost always the only thing that brings man (me) to the potter’s wheel. A switch in metaphors, isn’t it? I guess I should say “brings me through the fiery furnace.”

    1. The last time I checked, mixing metaphors wasn’t a crime, Oneta, so mix away!

      I’m not sure I’m willing to say that suffering always ends in refinement of character and purpose; I’ve known some people for whom that most assuredly wasn’t true. But I take your point, and agree that suffering can bear good fruit. (Look there — Another metaphor!) Questions of suffering — its causes, its meaning, its very existence — surely are what make the Book of Job so endlessly fascinating. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Job is so human, and God comes off as a bit of a cranky old man. Their dialogues are wonderful.

      In the end, I suppose the question is, “How do we learn to deal with suffering?” Given that we’re not particularly good at coping even with the daily irritations of life, that’s probably a life-long task.

  13. It is interesting to get some perspective on a prairie fire. I have studied many forest fires. The differences seem to be those of scale and time of complete regeneration.

    1. I think that’s a perfect summation, Terry. My suspicion is that in the forests, it also makes more difference whether it’s a spontaneous fire (e.g., lightning) or a prescribed burn. In November, the Native Plant Society is having their fall symposium in Huntsville, which is east Texas/piney woods. They’re going to be focusing on forestry, including the use of prescribed fire in that environment. It ought to be interesting.

  14. Fires play an important part in some ecologies, particularly in some forests and on the prairie. In fact, some plants require fire in order to release their seed. Some species of pines’ cones don’t release the seeds until they’ve been burnt. Fire quickly releases nutrients from dead plants back into the soil and helps control some pests. The grasslands are always burning because of lightening strikes. The key is that “controlled burns” limit the damage such wildfires can do.

    1. Thanks to you, I’ve just learned a new word: ‘pyrophytic.’ Pyrophytic plants are, of course, the ones that require fire for one reason or another. I found this bit of detail in a Britannica article:

      “Some plants, such as the lodgepole pine, Eucalyptus, and Banksia, have serotinous cones or fruits that are completely sealed with resin. These cones/fruits can only open to release their seeds after the heat of a fire has physically melted the resin.”

      That makes sense, but this took it one step further:

      “Other species, including a number of shrubs and annual plants, require the chemical signals from smoke and charred plant matter to break seed dormancy. Some of these plants will only sprout in the presence of such chemicals and can remain buried in the soil seed bank for decades until a wildfire awakens them.”

      So all of that ash and charred vegetation may be more than residue; in at least some cases, it helps to initiate growth.

  15. I appreciate how you (mostly) focused on the images immediately following the fire. Life is optimistic by nature and when disaster happens, it always looks forward to the rise of next phoenix – but then the phoenix would not exist if not for fire.

    War, flood, famine, fire, even the next housing bubble crash, is always lurking in our future and every time these things happen, we act surprised.

    1. A good bit of the time, when these things happen, we are surprised. Getting back to normal is a strong, reflexive human drive, even when the normal we end up with is a new normal. With new routines, we grow comfortable again, and that sets us up for more surprises down the road.

      Speaking of surprises, there were other forms of life stirring about on my first visit: ants, spiders, and even crawfish. I didn’t see the crawfish, but I saw their fresh chimneys amid the destroyed shells. One wolf spider had set up housekeeping in a crawfish claw: any port in a storm. By my second visit, there were deer tracks and crested caracara hunting in the fields. Nature doesn’t spend much time just sitting around after a disaster, that’s for sure.

  16. Like many other commenters, I am most taken by some of the tiny, shining, almost hidden beauties, like the snail and the sunlit plants. A quick look at the prairie after the burn would read as pure devastation; that closer look reveals the renewal already underway.

    1. The best analogy I can think of is walking into a dark room from bright sunlight. When I first saw the burned prairie, I couldn’t make out any details. Eventually, one detail and then another began to emerge, but I still had to feel my way through the land: and very, very slowly, while I tried to figure out what I was seeing. When I saw the silver snail, I smiled.

    1. Think of it as Mother Nature redoing her house. She doesn’t have to worry about a roof, but at least she’s well into the process of getting a new floor installed!

      I really am glad you enjoyed the photos. It’s been long enough now that I’m eager to go back, and see how things are.

  17. A series of beautiful photos from an environment one would expect to be devoid of such beauty. But from the ashes a new world is growing. It’s the never ending circle of life and Mother Nature.

    1. What’s that old line about beauty being in the eye of the beholder? Perhaps that’s true, but it’s also true that the eye can be trained to see beauty in unexpected places. It seems to me that’s where my silver snail and your street photography connect. In both places, it’s the ability to see the hidden detail that makes the difference.

  18. You do such a good job of helping us understand the the beauty in what some would see only as devastation. It’s hard to accept that we need “death and destruction” to ready the space for new growth and new life. Perception and perspective make the difference. Thanks for your insight.

    1. One of my little mantras is “everything counts.” If we pick and choose, focusing only on the beautiful, the sweet, and the pleasing, it just isn’t possible to understand nature (let alone human life). It’s to end with a sentimental view of the natural world, which isn’t very helpful if we’re trying to honor and preserve what we still have.

      I appreciate your comment, Sally. Thanks for reading, and for adding your perspective.

      1. A good mantra indeed. If more of us shared this idea we might not find ourselves in our current predicament — social, political, environmental. Keep on prodding us with your insight.

  19. How beautifully you portray the drama of fire, some stunning images here. There are so many plants that only grow after being burnt, nature is so incredibly diverse. The snail shell was very poignant. A fascinating post.xxx

    1. You’re certainly right about the diversity of nature — and right, too, that there are plants around the world that require fire for germination. I was reading about Australia’s Gymea lilies, and laughed at this paragraph about one grower:

      “Jeremy stimulates flowering in Gymea lilies by simulating what a bushfire does. He says that it appears that after a fire you get synchronised flowering. ‘But using a blow torch to simulate a bushfire is not something for the home gardener to try, however it well it works for us.'”

      I would think not. On the other hand, more and more small demonstration gardens here are using prescribed burns, and it’s amazing to see the results.

      Thanks for you kind words about the photos, too. I almost wished there had been someone around to photograph me after I took the earliest ones. If I ever do that again, I’ll be better prepared to deal with the ash.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Becca. The experience of taking the photos was interesting, too. Some of the ground where the lilies were growing was pretty darned soupy — so much so that I wondered about quicksand. Lo and behold, there is quicksand in Texas (although not on the prairie) and it’s just one more thing to be aware of.

      My camera is a Canon Rebel T6s. When I bought it, I paired it with a Canon 18-135mm lens, and then added a Canon 100mm macro lens. That lens is a real joy. I’m still not very skilled with it, but every now and then I get a photo that assures me the bad photos aren’t the fault of the lens!

  20. Beautiful post, though difficult for me at the moment as I, like the rest of the UK, am reeling from a recent disaster in London, my homeplace (though I no longer live there). That was a fire that completely destroyed a residential tower block in the middle of the night, and while I know you’re talking about something very different, it’s just difficult for me to think of fire at the moment. Just that… fire and people don’t mix..

    A few years ago there was what had probably begun as a controlled burn on a hillside about a mile from where I now live. It got out of control and the fire-brigade and volunteers spent a whole night and more trying to get it under control. All the trees on the hill were destroyed, as well as any vegetation there had been. (And I hate to think of the wildlife that died, too). Now, there are a few saplings and a lot of heather and gorse. Nature does eventually take care of itself.

    1. Clearly, there are both natural fires and unnatural fires, and what was experienced at Grenfell Tower was unnatural in the extreme. I happened to be finishing this post when I became aware of events over there, and brought up the SkyNews live feed. It was terrible to witness, even from this distance. Clearly, there are serious questions to be answered: not only for those affected by the destruction of Grenfell, but also for the sake of those living in other buildings where flammable cladding may have been installed.

      When I began learning about fire, I was surprised by how well many of the creatures do. Birds can fly, of course (provided they aren’t still in the nest), and others can run. Even those that live beneath the surface, like crawfish, do very well, because it’s only the top few inches of soil that are affected. My first trip to the prairie, there already were spiders, ants, flies, and crawfish active. It was amazing to see.

      Now, on a lighter note: my poor, aging brain finally made the connection, and I’ve had a wonderful time reminiscing over at Arty Old Bird! The comment sections were especially fun, as there were names there I haven’t thought of in years. Your new site is glorious, and I’m looking forward to exploring it. I can only imagine how much patience your work takes, and how much satisfaction it gives you. I’m so glad you stopped by, and commented.

      1. I suppose that as fire is natural, animals of all kinds have coping strategies. I wish we had.

        Ah… yes, Arty Old Bird is back (albeit without that name). I’m hoping to make my new blog a bit lighter soon, I’m more used to uptempo blogging as you remember (and thank you for remembering, it’s been a long time) but I need to keep focussed this time round. Yes, indeed, it does take a lot of patience, but once I sit down to work on a photo that element of it takes over. Glad you like it – happy exploration!

  21. This was lovely. Your photos are something.

    One thing depends on another, and from what seems like nothing comes something.
    This post reminds me of that line from that baseball movie, “Build it and they will come.”

    1. And just this minute, I started to laugh when it struck me that we could see all this as decluttering nature. But it’s true — not only is there destruction and re-creation, it’s a fact that creating empty space makes it possible for the prairie to fill up with beautiful new plants. It almost makes me want to go on another round of decluttering, myself. Who knows what might sprout up?

  22. A beautiful gallery of images.

    Yesterday, in the UK, we awoke to news of the latest disaster to affect the UK. A 27 storey apartment block had been destroyed overnight by a fire that took hold of the entire building in a shocking and terrifying way. As I write, this event is still a main item of news. A community – multi ethnic – for whom that tower was home (upwards of 500 people), are homeless, possession-less. We still do not know the death toll, but an incredible number escaped and the fire service went beyond the call of duty.

    Disaster has been followed by an extraordinary demonstration (outpouring) of generosity as clothes, food, household items have been donated for those who have lost everything. From the ashes we always see a phoenix rise. In human terms it demonstrates so much that is good about ‘community’ in the broadest sense.

    In the prairie, there will also be loss of life in the ecosystem and as you point out life returns swiftly enriched by the nutrients in the soil. Nature heals rapidly. The scars of Grenfell Tower’s fire will last a very long time indeed.

    1. Thanks for the kind words about the photos, Andy.

      I watched the events at Grenfell Tower unfold. As it happened, I left a note on the blog of my friend in Milton Keynes, and that’s how she learned about it when she got up. It was terrifying to watch. Apart from the horror of what was happening to the building and the people, there were echoes of our own 9/11 knocking around, too.

      I found the Grenfell Action Group blog that night, and was astonished to read the record of concerns and complaints. It’s always hard to know how much of a site like that is objective fact and how much personal ax-grinding, but it seemed to be fairly straightforward and well-documented. The fact that they were threatened with legal action by the Council in 2013 was interesting. The blog remained, and no action was taken.

      This article from the NY Times is a good summation, and certainly was useful in sorting out some of the complexities of the system. I hardly could believe that, until 2005, it was illegal to disclose fire inspection reports to the public.

      But you’re right about the good that has emerged in the midst of such sorrow. I’ve read several articles from several of your papers that detail the efforts being made on behalf of survivors. You’re certainly right about long-lasting scars — and by the time this gets sorted, I fear there are going to be even more wounds and scars.

      1. The NY Times article is a reasonable summary. It seems that a cheaper type of cladding (that had been linked to other fires) was used. For an extra two pounds per panel, a more fire resistant type of cladding could have been used. So often events happen that are the consequence of not learning from the lessons of the past and failing to act on past recommendations.

        1. I just finished a book by Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College and Harvard, titled The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. It seems clear to me that his arguments have relevance in the Grenfell tragedy. Not only was past experience ignored, the recommendations from experts were ignored as well. The book grew out of this article from 2014. I bought the book after reading the article, and it was a good purchase.

  23. Compare this post with those from not long ago, and it’s clear how photographically informed your vision has become.

    Nearing Austin yesterday afternoon, we drove past a burned piece of land in the Hill Country. Lots of prickly pears had turned yellow from the fire. Whether they were still alive, and if so whether they would survive, I don’t know.

    1. Even though I recognized your phrase “photographically informed…vision” to be a good thing, I have to admit (a little sheepishly) I didn’t know quite what it meant. After some browsing, I found a Michael Reichmann essay titled “Learning To See,” posted at The Luminous Landscape. I really enjoyed it, and found myself nodding in agreement more than I would have anticipated.

      Coincidentally, I was looking at a group of 2016 photos this afternoon. I wasn’t surprised to see some greater technical proficiency, but there was another difference I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe it’s that vision thing.

      The only thing I know about prickly pear and fire is that some friends cleared acres of the stuff, and then piled it up to let it dry before burning it. They said it took nearly two years for it to dry out completely. I’m betting on regeneration for the plants you saw.

        1. That’s a touching post. I’d read that he had died, but I hadn’t found the tribute yet. I did notice the “rantatorial” heading, and laughed at that. It’s clever, and tongue-in-cheek enough to be almost appealing.

  24. The photographs are mesmerizing. Together with the text they offer a profound meditation on loss and renewal. I was reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem “Again.”

    Again we come
    to the resurrection
    of bloodroot from the dark,

    a hand that reaches up
    out of the ground,
    holding a lamp.

    1. Despite having read a good bit of Berry, this is a new one for me. It’s a striking poem. It also evokes a particularly Texan story for me. Remember Bailey’s Prairie, and old man Bailey, who wanted to be buried with his gun and his hootch, but was prevented from meeting that goal by his wife? He’s said to haunt the prairie, emerging from his grave after midnight to wander about with his lantern, looking for his whiskey. I can see his hand, reaching up out of the ground, holding a lamp!

    1. It is amazing. It’s not just that it comes back as it was, it’s that it comes back even healthier. What wildflower can bloom under a layer of thatch? or what grasses can out-compete invasive trees and shrubs? Sometimes they need a little help, and it’s great that we can offer it.

  25. The bible’s use of fire certainly speaks to our varied apprehensions of it: destruction, cleansing, heating, lighting, destroying, etc. There is always something new to learn from an element so, well, elemental. Thanks for this, and the lovely photographs!

    1. The multi-faceted nature of fire certainly does give new meaning to phrases like, “I was fired from my job,” or “We need to get these people fired up.” And we can’t forget those who have a “fiery” temperament, who need their emotional temperature cooled down from time to time. One phenomenon, yet so many meanings — and a whole lot of good photos from its occurence!

  26. This is beautiful work, Linda. I really enjoyed it, especially the fire images – the snail and stem were silvered? Amazing. I often feel like I can picture myself at your side on these wanderings, so thank you for that.

    1. I have no idea how fire turns things silvery. It’s on my list of things to find out about, because the effect was as lovely as it was unexpected. “Scorched,” I would have expected. “Silvered?”? Not so much.

      It makes me happy that you feel “included” in my snooping around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to pick everyone up and plunk them down in the middle of this, so they could see it, too?” These essays are the next best thing, I suppose.

  27. Love this Linda. This year I have found a lot of Green flowered Milkweed on the Nash, and last week I found some on the Brazos Bend front prairie. what is interesting is that both of these prairies were burned last year around the same time and I have not seen this many green flowered milkweeds at Nash and it has never been recorded or seen at Brazos Bend until now. I think fire does things that we do not know yet and the extent in which it is necessary for our planet. we are born of water but also fire. Both tragic and renewing

    1. I’m far from well educated about the effects of fire, but I have learned enough to agree with you when you say that fire does things we don’t yet understand. While I was reading for this post, I found this, from the Britannica:

      “Other species, including a number of shrubs and annual plants, require the chemical signals from smoke and charred plant matter to break seed dormancy. Some of these plants will only sprout in the presence of such chemicals and can remain buried in the soil seed bank for decades until a wildfire awakens them.”

      I’ve understood how thatch removal helps, and the elimination of invasive plants, and the melting of rosin around seeds to allow germination. But chemical signals from smoke and charred plants? That was a new one — more evidence for the truth of your statement.

      1. We won’t even mention what communication is going on with all the things in the soil. The soil is beginning to be viewed as a living thing. without all the mycorrhiza and other microscopic nematodes etc… the soil is just ground up rocks. Mind blowing! Have a hard time understanding it all. The soil in its vastness is just as vast as outer space is to me. Hard to understand.

        1. I’ve never thought about that, but it makes sense. Think about our beaches. At the water’s edge, the sand is just that: ground-up rock, shells, and so on. Nothing grows until you move farther back, to the tideline. Now I really wish I’d made that trip to Follets Island. What a laboratory for seeing how things develop from beach to bay. Of course, if I’d made it that day, I wouldn’t have had these questions!

          I did finally find Laffite’s Cove nature preserve last weekend. It’s a beautiful place, and easily accessible — roughly Stewart Road and 11 Mile Road. I’m pretty sure you know about it, but it was a revelation to me.

  28. A lot of well-seen beauty in these images, Linda. Things that most of us would pass by and look in other directions as you describe.There are many situations similar that we are inclined to wish away and not see, whether natural or not. Burning is certainly natural and prescribed burns are sometimes needed when nature does not provide. I’ve read that some seeds sit dormant for decades waiting for the next fire to ravage what’s growing so they may reach for the sky once again.
    I enjoyed your imagination seeing silver gilt twigs and still “burning” sprouts that have not been thoroughly charred.

    1. I didn’t realize until doing some reading on fire that many rosin-covered seeds need the fire to melt their covering before they can germinate. And even more strangely, some plants require the chemicals in the smoke for germination to occur. That’s pushing the limits of weird, but there it is.

      One of the most interesting phenomena I’ve seen was out on Nash prairie, where a burned section and an unburned parcel butted up against one another. Wildflowers that wouldn’t be expected for another two or three months were blooming away — not because of any climate changes, but simply because they were freed of thatch, and profited from the extra sunlight.

      I was down at this refuge last weekend, and was amazed by even more changes. There were sunflowers galore, prairie parsley, ruella, cat tails and other rushes in the sloughy area — just beautiful.

      I’m glad you liked my little “bonfires,” and the silver stem. Still to come is the fungus that wasn’t — one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen, and that took me forever to figure out.

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