Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flint Hills Prairie Fires

I've been a a bit busy!  If you happen to be driving through the Flint Hills of Kansas this week - the last of the prairie fires are a breathtaking site!  Its almost like we try to burn our selves silly for a couple of weeks around here!

The Kansas Turnpike is an excellent vantage point, running from the Oklahoma border in the south (the main route from Oklahoma City to Wichita) to Kansas City in the northeast corner.  The best views are between Emporia and Wichita.

And even if you miss it by a week, you will get to enjoy the beauty of the grass renewing itself - it seems like overnight!  The black burnt prairie becomes a brilliant green for miles and miles with nothing to block your view except the distant horizons in all directions.  The transient cattle are arriving now from all over the country to spend their lazy summer getting fat on the native grass.

We burnt our little ten acre patch last week!  Finally, after years and years of neglect we were able to hire someone to bring in equipment that would take out the overgrowth of cedars.  My husband spent a week on the four-wheeler dragging their carcasses up into piles.  Then comes the waiting as Kansas winds will quickly take a prairie fire out of control.  Last week the perfect wind from the perfect direction arrived at a time when neighbors could come and help. 

The cedars make the giant, hot fire you see in the photos.  Otherwise the prairie grass burns slowly and calmly.  And it's a neighboring event as people help each other burn especially on a place as small as ours.  It's easier to burn the huge unbroken patches of undeveloped prairie than it is a little place like ours.  On the 160+ acre places there is little chance of accidently burning down the neighbor's house or barn.  That is one of the reasons the tallgrass prairie conservation groups are working so hard to keep this area from being split up by developments. 

Evidently it takes a certain number of men, four wheelers and pickup trucks to make it all work out.  Plus a cooler of beverages.....

This is the way it has been done for centuries - spreading fire with a rake.....

And the past few decades have added some new ways to get the job done.......

Either way seems to work as this photo shows a few minutes later.....

The bonus cute Wranglers with boots were my sideshow.  Luckily I'm married to this one.

The near-miss evaluation committee meeting

I am very happy!  They didn't burn down my house.  And I can see our ponds from my upstairs bedroom window again!

The native Americans who lived on these prairies were very uncomfortable with places where they couldn't see for miles and miles around them.  The Kaw who lived in my area refused to move into the stone houses provided by the government in the late 1860's and instead used them to corral their horses.  They preferred to live in their more open housing structures so they would be aware of their surroundings.  I find myself feeling the same way every time I visit a large city.  In New York, I really had to keep breathing and reassuring myself as we traveled the train into the underground at Grand Central Station and then spent time downtown at Times Square.  I had fun, but I couldn't SEE!   It was a weird feeling and I was glad to be back on the prairie.