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.

The Other Side of the Tracks

img_9607Arkansas Freight

Always, there were the trains. Whistles in the night; the sharp, insistent whining of brakes; the vibration at the country grade crossing as a highballing freight passed by: all hinted at goings and comings, arrivals and departures, denied to us as children.

Fascinated by the trains and intrigued by everything surrounding them, I visited a roundhouse with my grandfather, to see where locomotives lived. From the bridges leading into Kansas City, I admired the terminals and rail yards filled with long lines of cars and chubby cabooses. Always, I wondered at the mysterious letters painted on tankers and boxcars alike: ATSF, RI, C&NW.

Even the tracks provided entertainment.  Encouraging one another, my friends and I laid on the ground, pressing our ears to cold, hard rails in hopes of feeling the rumble of an approaching train.
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Life’s Little Vacancies

Wichita, Kansas

Somewhere between Ness City and Hugoton, it occurred to me: most of the aging, slightly down at the heels motels still clinging to life along the business routes of small Kansas towns had “(No) Vacancy” signs somewhere on their property. A few signs had been modernized with neon. Others were more traditional: wooden, with an adjustable covering for the dreaded “No” that, when visible, sent discouraged and already weary travelers father on down the road.

By the time I reached Satanta, I was a little weary myself, and ready to stop, so I paused to ask a convenience store clerk if the town had a motel. It did. She gave me directions, and I found it easily enough. Unfortunately, I hadn’t found it soon enough. It had a sign, too, and the sign said, “No Vacancy.” Forty minutes later, I had a room in Hugoton.
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A Grace Period

(Click to enlarge)

Had T.S. Eliot lived in coastal Texas, he might have chosen August rather than April to be his cruelest month: bringing, as August does, a wasteland of over-heated concrete, limp vegetation, and silent birds.

Picking lethargically at their food, the birds show little more interest in the world around them than their increasingly silent, sighing human companions. Caught between memories of the delicate, blooming spring and desire for October’s cooling winds, spirits grow dull, insensate: failing to revive even when washed by overheated rain. Continue reading

Attentiveness

(Click to enlarge)

 

One flower at a time, please,
however small the face.
Two flowers are one flower
too many, a distraction.
Three flowers in a vase begin
to be a little noisy.
Like cocktail conversation,
everybody talking.
A crowd of flowers is a crowd
of flatterers (forgive me).
One flower at a time.  I want
to hear what it is saying.
                                                      “Bouquet” ~ Robert Francis

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The Glass Fleuragerie

Iced Buttercup ~ Terry Glase

Far up the mountain, at a place he calls Buttercup Ridge, Montana photographer Terry Glase searches each spring for the eponymous flower: Sagebrush Buttercup or, as the botanists would say, Ranunculus glaberrimus. Describing a visit to the ridge in 2015, Terry writes:

After about a half mile of hiking toward a trail I intended to visit today, I tired of all of the snow and ice and turned back. There were other places to go, one of which was Buttercup Ridge, where the very first wildflowers bloom every year about this time.
It’s a small area, about 50 feet by 100 feet, atop a very steep, narrow, rocky, cliffy ridge. Why buttercups bloom there nearly two months before they bloom anywhere else is a complete mystery to me.
They do though, after all, bloom in western Montana. Somewhere in their DNA they know that, and they also know that, before spring comes, they may see temperatures of -20ºF and two feet of snow, but they bloom anyway.

Apart from its early appearance, the simple flower displays other, quite delightful, characteristics. In post after post, Terry points to different faces of a flower he describes as being in turn whimsical, impetuous, shy, and private. And yet, when I discovered his photo of the little ice-covered buttercup, it reminded me of another, quite different flower.
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