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