The kids and I hurried home from town last night, arriving to see the hillside above our house already in flames.
That’s a good thing, I assure you.
Pete, two neighbors, and two other area prairie enthusiasts were already at work, burning fire breaks and raking debris to prepare our shared prairie for a prescribed burn.
(All photos are expandable. Click to see a larger view.)
The project began many weeks ago, and truly culminated last night in this long-awaited burn.
Pete, our friend Alan, and our next door neighbor Jeff had spent the past many weeks working tirelessly to restore an expanse of goat prairie (that spans our and Jeff’s land) that was being slowly but steadily covered in juniper trees. Invasive honeysuckle was waiting in the (wooded) wings.
Alan, who lives just up the valley from us a couple of miles, (pictured here in green) has been champing at the bit to restore this prairie for some 20 years.
His delight was evident – and contagious.
We’ve done prescribed burns with Alan in years past, burning pastures and bottomlands below our barn. But this time was different.
This was an ecosystem built by fire, but one that had not been burned (in Al’s estimation) for 75 years.
We know that the original homesteaders grazed sheep and goats here (old fences still remain, tangled in the forest at the ridge-line), but other than that it’s been abandoned, largely due to it’s steep slope and shallow, rock-strewn soil.
With the junipers gone, it was time to give the prairie one last push toward health.
Moments after we arrived, Sage was “voluntold” (as he good-naturedly put it) to grab a water pack and work a firebreak. Lupine and I skirted the edges, keeping our eyes peeled for any sparks or embers jumping the boundary. (We had lived that experience before, the four of us and Al, and never wanted to do so again.)
This burn, thankfully, went according to plan.
The excitement in the air was as thick as the smoke, and this remnant scrap of prairie was lovingly – yet dramatically – coaxed back toward health.
From a homeschooling perspective, we couldn’t have asked for more. It’s been a couple of years since the kids were involved in a burn. (Look at how young they were during this one!)
And they jumped in with enthusiasm.
It was impossible to stop smiling.
The very real sense of community; the feeling of being true stewards for the land; the knowledge that hard work pays off; the contagious spirit of volunteerism – all of it came together as the sun slipped behind the smoking hillside.
I went to bed feeling grateful for good neighbors, old prairies, and no surprise gusts of wind.