Controlled Burn

By Traci Brimhall

March 19, 2018

Controlled Burn

Spring is the season for burning on the plains. Ranchers across the tall grass prairies of Eastern Kansas watch the forecast for the stillest days, when wind nests between mountains, before they bring the driptorches to the fields. Lightning used to do this job. Then the Osage and Kaw tribes razed the grasses each spring. Watching the earth grow brittle makes a Prometheus out of anyone. When you burn away last year’s grass, the green of the new is nearly electric. When you burn away what remains, you get a life, a fresh start made from violence. 

Once, I drove across I-70 through a controlled burn that had gotten loose. A spark had jumped the highway and now both sides were lit with a low flame and titans made of smoke. I thrilled through that gray cloud, touched on either side by fire. I liked watching the fire’s ambitious and careless hunger eat away at both sides of the road. I did not grieve. I did not wonder who was fighting it. I just wanted to move faster than the fire’s appetite. And once, I walked out of my office and something was falling from the sky. Snow, I thought, though I knew it was too warm. I’m trying to say I knew better when I stuck out my tongue to the April sky and caught the ashes.

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