A recent post on the Flint Hills of Kansas Blog refocused my attention on the geology and ecology of the Flint Hills and reminded me again just how unique the environment really is in which I put forth my sad attempts at a garden. The post linked to a National Park Service pamphlet located at (http://www.nps.gov/tapr/upload/Geology%20brochureFinal.pdf%20) that focuses on the Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve and describes in simple terms how my thin prairie soils evolved and why any plant that I place into the soil has to find a way to grow roots around and through the layer of loose flint that underlays the black soil between the one and three foot deep levels. The topography and barely-covered sedimentary limestones and shales of the hillsides make the whole region practically impossible to crop farm and it barely allows an attempt to garden as my occasional despondent weeping will testify. Often, my only consolation at the end of a long, hot day is the sunset, when the blue sky turns to glorious color and far-off clouds on the horizon look like the buildings of a city beyond this world.
We grow only grasses well here on the prairie, both the crop farmers and I, and we grow them because our plough eventually breaks on this unforgiving ground. Trees fight to gain a hold and to obtain enough water on the exposed terraces and then they grow short and thick under assaults from the constant prairie winds. Shrubs hasten to put on growth with the abundant spring moisture but the colors of Fall are often blunted with the loss of summer's leaves and energy during the July and August droughts. Herbaceous perennials suffer in the hot summer sun and pull reserves back into their roots for another try next year. Deep roots are needed to preserve and protect life from the sub-zero January days.
The native prairie is dependent on all these things; sun, heat, moisture, drought, cold, wind and crappy soil. Yet, it's also dependent on one other unique feature under attack from the greater world; Fire. Sweeping Fire is the creator and the destroyer of the prairie ecosystem, clearing the land of the ubiquitious junipers and foreign invaders that seek to transform the prairie into ecogarbage, and preserving the unobstructed beauty for the deeply-rooted survivors that have adapted here. Fire is cleansing for the prairie and also sometimes cleansing for the time-worn souls of the people who live here, particularly as the lines of controlled fires sweep across the prairie nightscape.
All this, though, is under threat from the bureaucratic slugs who work for the Eastern cities beyond our horizon. There are recent suggestions and discussions seeking to place bans on the annual spring prairie burns because they temporarily raise the ozone levels of the populated scars on the earth downwind of us. Burning the prairie is bad, they say, because you push our already polluted cities over the brink; it's your fault, prairie-dwellers, that we're in such bad shape! These same thoughtless dweebs that push us towards an economy based on carbon credits and whale preservation forget that cessation of burning on the prairie would cause a final loss of the sweeping vistas, the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid, the Prairie Chicken, and an ancient way of life. How deficient, the vision of Man!
Let the wind turbines populate the prairies, if you must, to help decrease the impact of the human blight on the planet, but leave the prairie burning alone, I say. The prairie will survive beneath the artifical towers, but it won't survive our ignorance of the natural processes of fire and season.