Last Saturday was "burning day" for myself and my neighbors, as we took advantage of cool temperatures and the recent rains to "safely" burn the prairie surrounding our homes.
Prairie burns, as I've discussed before, are an important factor in prairie maintenance. Burns act to keep the prairie clear of invasive trees and non-native "weeds", and they increase the quality and protein levels of grassland intended for livestock pasture or hay. As a consequence, of course, our intrusive government tries to regulate and prevent this useful and quite natural act, particularly during April when the burns are carefully monitored to limit their contribution to ozone pollution in overcrowded cities to the east. For untold millennia, prairie burns occurred as a result of lightning or the actions of Native Americans, but widespread burns today are unusual and it falls to the homeowners to nourish the prairie and to protect humans and human property.
This year, we burned starting early in the morning. Night burns can be spectacular, but our quiet morning burn was still beautiful and fretful and frightening, all at once. Our primary goals are to keep the burns from escaping into town, and to burn our pastures thoroughly without burning our homes and outbuildings and my garden. Hence, we usually "backburn" the perimeters of our landscaping into the wind, and then set fires to run with the wind to hotly and quickly finish the job. In that final phase, sometimes it seems like the whole world is on fire.
Based on long experience together, none of my neighbors trust each other with a match in hand, and so burning is coordinated in person and by cell phone and burn tactics are chosen by consensus. I view my neighbors as crazy arsonists hell bent on roasting my garden, but in their defense, the largest uncontrolled fire in this area occurred as a result of me trying to clear a bed for tulips a decade or so back. Every year, somebody's pine trees get singed or a burn eats into someone's landscape mulch, but this year it was a perfect burn and there were almost no casualties, except for the accidental burning of four large hay bales owned by a neighbor (his own fault).
I say almost no casualties, but at approximately 6:50 pm, several hours after the burns died down, our electricity died as well. Pack rats often infiltrate the ground-hugging transformer boxes and nest there, and the nests will catch fire occasionally and smolder for hours in the boxes before finally taking our electricity with them. Sure enough, on a neighbor's land, a blackened box was smoldering away and there was a large hole dug underneath one side. Even in death, pack rats will get their revenge.