For Love of the Land

My first love is prairie, but my home is perched above an Ozark’s wooded hollow. I’ve walked down the ravine through my mini savanna into the bottomland woods many times repeating the words, “I need to burn this”. I wanted to burn it to reduce the fuel load, reduce the voracious ticks, reduce the multiflora rose, and enhance the spring flora that I know are hanging on in my little woods. Maybe most importantly, I wanted to keep my little haven from turning into a cedar woods like so much of the land around ours. A little fire can go a long ways to keeping the cedar out. If there’s one thing I think I can do, it’s limit the cedar.

I had been raking my fire lines all fall, biding my time for a break in the weather to coincide with a day off. The day finally came on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The planets lined up. I had a borrowed drip torch and two sturdy field hands. The neighbors were all notified and the fire department had cautiously approved. The relative humidity was on its way to the teens so we started early in the day to avoid the inevitable red flag warning. About 10 minutes after ignition, we saw the county sheriff drive by twice; neighbors later wandered by as well. All went smoothly and we tied up the fire a couple hours later. The upland perimeter burned well. The bottomland was predictably patchy.

My husband slings some fire in our woods with a drip torch.

My husband slings some fire in our woods with a drip torch.

With my first burn under my belt, we had a celebratory lunch and watched the smoke diminish. As I have watched the burn scar over the last few weeks, the ash has been disintegrating and char on the trees became more apparent. The squirrels have been feasting on the now available hickory nuts. I can’t wait to see how our understory flora in the black fared and if my multiflora rose suffered from the herbicide-fire combination. I know I killed some little cedars and that makes me happy.

My son taking a stroll in the bottomland portion of the burn unit on a warm winter day.

My son taking a stroll in the bottomland portion of the burn unit on a warm winter day.

I’ve been a part of many prescribed fires over the years, but burning my own land was the most rewarding of them all. It just feels good to take care of land that you love. Perhaps in the spirit of the holiday, by taking care of my land I am doing a public service.