Would we burn the whole field before the rain and lightning came? It was hard to tell, and we almost stopped several times, but then we looked up, felt one or two raindrops, heard thunder in the distance, and waited. “I don’t see any lightning yet,” I told Ken. “Might as well keep dragging fire,” he replies, and so I did.
Dragging fire is my favorite thing about burning a prairie, and actually, I love starting fire almost as much as I hate putting fires out (which is far more stressful). To burn a prairie, it’s necessary to drag a lot of fire, first along the edges of the prairie at the far end of where the wind is blowing. So if the wind, as it was, is blowing southwest to northeast, you burn the edges of the prairie on the northeast first. That way, when you light up the opposite edges, the new fire will happily run across the field to the just burned-out prairie grass. Fire hitting a banner of ash extinguishes itself with ease.
So I twirled dried grass around the pitchfork (like winding spaghetti around a fork) and ran it forward, spilling droplets of fire along the way. After igniting the northern edge and some of the eastern edge, I handed the pitchfork over to Tim, one of
Daniel’s friends (who turns out to go way back with Daniel to when they were in childcare together as babies), and taught him what I know of the art and skill and fire-dragging. You want to hold the grass onto the fork, accumulate more as you go while what you have burns away, and keep your hold both loose and tight at once as you move forward. Tim was a natural, and in no time at all, he was running with the fire.
Meanwhile, the thunderheads billowed higher, the dusk started to creep up on us, and the fire Daniel and Ken were lighting along the other side galloped over to meet our fire. After a slow start, we had the usual fast finish, all of us remarking about faces and animals we saw in the shapes and shadows of flames, the bluish smoke blending into clouds, the thunder of the fire matching the thunder of the storm to our north.
When it was over, we walked back to cars and house hauling water spray bottles, shovels and pitchforks. I even dance-stomped some small flames licking eastward out of the field. Then we did what any sensible people do after burning the prairie: we went out for Mexican food.