It was too much to go home and make fire, I told myself, after balancing the delicate aftermath of a stomach flu (when the whole body needs to tiptoe around itself), an all-day symposium on what it means to be a Kansas writer, and a solo reading at Johnson County Community College. I was tired, K-10 was backed up because of a tragic accident, and although I was leading some friends home from Kansas City (who had a hankering to burn something), I envisioned myself landing at the house for a bath and a re-reading of a very old People Magazine.
But when I led my friends through the freshly-burnt field, the whitened hair-paper-thin texture of the grass dissolving underfoot, my mind changed itself. “Okay, a few minutes,” I decided. We crossed through the trees to the field just being ignited, and as the smoke cleared, I realized there were about a dozen people, most of whom I know and love, being led by Ken. Seeing the fire through my friends’ eyes, who looked as if they were witnessing a curvy line of miracles, I forgot my plans and stayed.
Because the ground was wet and the grass was ready, it was an easy and fast burn. Fire loves fire, rushes toward itself, flares up and puts itself out. The damp non-prairie grasses at the edges smothered the little flames. Meanwhile Heather and Monty, going from one corner across, and Ken, going from the same corner up, led pitchforks of spaghetti-ed up dried grasses on fire, dipping fire down the line.
Watching it all, and moving a lot to avoid the rushing flames, my friends and I — all writers — took an inordinate amount of author photos of ourselves for future book jackets, real and imagined, and we bowed to the fire because, when it’s really going, it sounds just like applause.
When we were done — our clothes smelling like fire, our shoes leaving ash prints — we went to the house to consolidate cars and head out for Mexican food. As we started up the stairs of the house, I had a quick flash (so to speak) about this ritual each April for the last 28 years or so, reminding me that I’m alive to stand on the grass and watch what fire can do, and then walk slowly through the fresh black field that mixes the occasional dead snake or vole who was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the coming explosion of green and new life.