“There’s nothing like the smell of napalm in the morning…” It’s one of the most famous movie lines of all time. Around my neighborhood the line would go: “There’s nothing like the smell of smoke in the springtime, it’s the smell of impending warm weather.”
That’s enough to get this hillbilly stirred up, especially after our ridiculously short summer last year – somewhere in the area of five to six weeks. It must have done something to my psyche, because I had a dream last week that summer was already over and we were headed into fall. But I digress. The moral of this story is springtime, and more importantly, what I do to celebrate warm weather. As you may have guessed, it involves playing with fire.
It didn’t take me long after moving in to a home in a forest that fire plays an important part in the cycle of life. Three and half months after moving from suburban Philly, I spent two weeks evacuated because of nearby forest fires. It was an eye opening experience. Living in the forest during fire season is akin to living on the southeast coast during hurricane season or on the plains during tornado season. Unlike the former examples, when you live in the woods, there is something you can do about mitigating the risks.
After a several year fuel reduction project, we’re now into maintain mode, and a part of maintenance is reintroducing what human’s have so successfully removed from Eco-system – fire.
Over the last couple of weeks, with the help of a friend from the forest service, we’ve been laying down a carpet of fire. And it’s a kick in the pants. After years of burning slash piles (slash is logging waste) we’ve begun the process of broadcast burning the hillside. Thankfully my neighbors are use to seeing smoke, but I doubt if they’ve seen as much as last week.
I can hear the city slickers ask: “Why would you want to burn your land?”
The answer to that question is long and would essentially try to overcome years of classic conditioning by a fellow named Smokey the Bear. Smokey has his good points, but one thing he neglects to mention is that not all fire is bad fire. The short answer is, the forest needs to burn. It’s part of the natural cycle of life.
There is something cathartic in witnessing wildland fire do its work.
I won’t argue that the immediate aftermath is ugly. Blackened soil, scorched trees, and charred trunks aren’t pretty, but what happens as nature gets to work is beautiful. Deadfall in the form of limbs, duff, and blow-overs are replaced by native grasses, wildflowers and regenerated trees. If I can remember, I’ll post some pictures of wildflowers as they come into bloom in previously burnt areas. The old time trees have thanked me for cleaning up their neighborhood and making it easier for them to grab a drink. Okay, they haven’t, but I watched Disney movies as a kid. I too imagine an anthropomorphized forest.
There’s something rewarding in helping nature do it’s work in my little piece of paradise. Ah, who am I kidding, it’s just an adrenaline rush to lay down the fire. As the days grow longer, I wax philosophical like Colonel Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, Only instead of saying: “Someday this war is going to end,” my take on the matter is: “Someday burning season is going end.” Then it’s fire season, and fire does become the enemy.