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.

Analog traveling, Part 2 ~ Landmark and Lifemarks

pawneeblackPawnee Rock ~ George Sibley’s “remarkable rocky point”

Tempting though it may be to imagine early Santa Fe trail surveyors as a grim, distance-obsessed lot, pressing across the plains in sixty-six foot increments while their lagging chainmen whined and complained, there was more to life on the trail than measured miles and weary feet.

Survey parties camped each night by necessity, but occasionally they stayed in the same spot for several days: a decision sometimes dictated by  circumstance — a swollen river, delayed messages, Indian threats — but just as often occasioned by pleasant surprises. Rich grasses, good timber, or an abundance of game were gifts along a dangerous, difficult road, and gifts were not to be received lightly.
Continue reading

Analog Traveling, Part I ~ Mr. Sibley’s Chain Gang

sibley1Crossing the Cimarron desert

While not precisely in the Middle of Nowhere, William Becknell found himself roaming the eastern slope of the southern Rockies in the fall of 1821, conducting trade with Indians in lieu of more lucrative, but forbidden, commerce with Mexico.

Encountering a group of Mexican soldiers one sun-soaked afternoon, Becknell learned that Mexico had won independence from Spain, and trade once again was possible. Seizing his opportunity, Becknell traveled directly to Santa Fe, arriving on November 16. It was a profitable decision:

After a month of trading, Becknell and his party left Santa Fe on December 13th. His investment of $300 in trading goods had returned approximately $6000 in coin. The men returned to Missouri safely in January, 1822.

Wealthier and more experienced, Becknell resolved to return to Santa Fe the following summer, but along a different route: rejecting the difficult mountain passes in favor of a diagonal dash across Kansas, through present-day Council Grove, Dodge City, and the Cimarron Desert. Continue reading

The Poets’ Birds: Cranes

cranesSandhill cranes ~ Brazoria County, Texas
I call my wife outdoors to have her listen,
to turn her ears upward, beyond the cloud-veiled
sky where the moon dances thin light,
to tell her, “Don’t hear the cars on the freeway—
it’s not the truck-rumble. It is and is not
the sirens.” She stands there, on deck
a rocking boat, wanting to please the captain
who would have her hear the inaudible.
Her eyes, so blue the day sky is envious,
fix blackly on me, her mouth poised on question
like a stone. But, she hears, after all.
January on the Gulf,
warm wind washing over us,
we stand chilled in the winter of those voices.
                                “The Cranes, Texas January” ~ Mark Sanders

Rough, raw — nearly indescribable — the sound of their call alerts me to their presence. On the open prairie, they tease even the most dedicated seeker, bobbing and bending among the grasses: oblivious to our longings.

Still, they comfort. Their hidden voices echo grace and beauty; the rhythms of their beating wings carry on the wind. “Listen,” they seem to say. “We have come, and soon will leave, but for this time, we offer you our world.”

Comments always are welcome. Unless otherwise noted, photos are mine.  Thanks to reader Bob Freeman, who pointed me to the poem.

How To Bribe A Bison


Once on the open range west of Matfield Green, a turn to the north on M Road, followed by another turn west to 60 Road, will lead you to Cedar Creek, the ghost town of Wonsevu, and autumnal ditches filled with partridge pea.

Stop to admire the flowers or the rust-colored grasses sweeping over the hills, and a glint of light might catch your eye. From the road, it’s hard to determine the source. But this is open prairie, unfenced and accessible. Wade into the grasses and climb the hill, and you’ll discover a life-sized, perfectly detailed bison: a sculpture conveying all the strength and solidity of the iconic prairie animal.

Although the name of the sculptor remains a mystery, and I haven’t yet learned who commissioned the work, I like to imagine a rancher placing the bison on its hillside: perhaps as a tribute to early ranchers in the American West who helped to save the bison from extinction. Continue reading

Me, My Selfie, and I

selfieOn the banks of Fox Creek
(click any photo to enlarge)

After a combination of circumstances and a good bit of cyber-frustration led me to purchase an iPad early in the course of my recent travels, a friend pointed out what she clearly assumed to be a side benefit. “Just think!” she chirped. “Now you can send us selfies while you travel!”

Having known me for years, she should have known — but clearly didn’t — that it hasn’t been the lack of a camera phone or its obnoxious accessories that’s excluded me from the ranks of selfie enthusiasts. I simply lack the inclination. The thought of photographing myself when there’s so much else of interest in the world to record seems faintly ridiculous. Continue reading