Napping gingerly between checking Facebook and staring at the walls seemed the perfect way to spend this late afternoon, especially since I didn’t sleep enough last night, and I’m nursing a sinus infection with a crazy-long shelf life. Eventually, I would get awake enough to go out with Ken for enchiladas, particularly because I haven’t eaten Mexican food in close to 36 hours, so I was long overdue. Then Ken called from his way home, and everything changed.
Usually, we burn the prairie in early April, but because of drought-delayed prairie flower and grass planting, the planting is coming soon, and the ground needs to be prepared. Ken, Daniel and some friends tried to burn our field to the west in December but had to stop when the wind shifted and the fire starting heading toward our house (where I was blissfully frying latkes). This fire needed to be finished, and finally, the wind was right, the ground was dry enough but not too dry, and the time was short.
I didn’t feel like bundling up so I could strip down as I dragged fire through the cold, but it was the right thing to do because I live on this farm. Also, Ken drove me 2.5 hours each way to a reading last night as a favor, and so I kept my whining thoughts to myself.
Burning a prairie entails setting a back fire on one edge, and then another fire, which will run to toward the back fire, on the other. Dragging fire is a lot like winding spaghetti while running a marathon and dancing the fox trot.. You fork up a bunch of dried grass, wrap it around the pitchfork, and move fast enough to leave a steady trail of drops of fire. Only the pitchfork was broken, and some of the ground I was on was still damp, so I had to stoop down and zigzag as I made the back fire. It didn’t help when Ken took my pitchfork to give to Forest, who was dragging on the eastern edge.
Ken told me to do it his way: grab a big bunch of tall grass, light the edges, and then run, kindling grasses as I went. But I wasn’t so good at this, which required that a person move just fast enough to cover ground and just slow enough to set little fires. Plus, sometimes the fire would flare up and head toward me, and I’d have to throw the grass down and scream. I ended up doing a combination of Ken’s technique with shoveling bits of fire down the prairie.
Within an hour, it was time to stop, most of the field burned or on fire, and night falling (when it’s illegal to burn prairies, an unfortunate law). We stopped, watched the circles of flames, took each other’s pictures, and slowly made our way, ashes behind us, toward the house.
And now, as befits any reluctant fire-starter, the enchilada. As some Kenyans I met liked to say, “God is good.”