Bit of a grass fire here the other day. Young guy with a lighter. Wondered what it might do. Found out. Too many generations since there was fire here. Hard to remember to tell kills everything. Poof. Fire threatened to go rogue and take out some houses. Evacuations. Water bombers and spotter planes circling above my house in the afternoon. Helicopters scooping up water from among the ski boats on the lake below. Cheatgrass went up like spilled fuel barrels. Video here. In the end, due to the amazing performance of a host of firefighters and some men who really know how to fly, only sixty acres of grassland parched. Fried to a crisp, though. Rattlesnakes and firefighters were battling for their fire hoses and their helmets. Today, men are up there chopping at roots (with a wary eye kept out for rattlers), because the fire has gone underground here and there. I went up to see what a cheatgrass fire could do to a landscape. Well, this, for one…
Fire Above Okanagan Lake
Beautiful, really, in a devastated kind of way. In the past, views like this were commonplace. (The trees in the background are largely weeds.)
In the indigenous world, this land was farmed by fire. Fire, in other words, was as much the land as were water, air, soil, and people. Trees? Now, though, the fires are too hot. Because of the cheatgrass. Well, partly. Partly because the cheatgrass is like jet fuel. Partly because it takes all the water out of the system wayyyyyyyy too early in the year. Also because the soil is bare as dust between the weeds. It used to be covered with blue-green algae. So, now it’ll be interesting to see what struggles back from this armaggedon.
Balsam Root Imitating a Campfire
Note the fricasseed deer dung in the foreground. Do those contain within themselves the seeds of a new landscape? Is that the secret? Cuz they’re everywhere.
Here, by the way, is a doe and her fawn. They were grazing this morning twenty yards from the scene above. Perhaps they have the answer? Or just more dung, maybe. Well, certainly that. I had to stamp my feet to get them to look up. They are, I do believe, getting used to me.
Harold Bothering the Deer Again
In the indigenous Syilx world, the deer were people, too. So were those rocks. And that mullein sticking up like a candle there. All of them. Different forms of spirit. Still are. I’m all for that.
But the fire form of this spirit. Whoa. That’s one powerful spirit, for sure. Here’s what it does to bunchgrass.
Bunchgrass in Its Fire Phase
Notice how the fire moved through the grass largely without moving it at all.
The land is pretty much charbroiled here, but I doubt that’s the whole story. There are bulbs underground. Their year is over. Their are voles down there. And gophers. Here is a vole city, for instance.
Land, Teeming with Voles
It’s been three days since the fires. Some of the tan-coloured vole hills here are new. All the rest were rather untouched by the fire.
You can bet that there are lots of flower seeds cached down there. Might some sprout, after the coyotes come and dig things up looking for something to eat, cuz, frankly, above ground there isn’t so much as a bone? I hope so. Cuz what’s above ground doesn’t looks, first, like hunger …
Two Survivors of the Holocaust
Hiding out together on an island of rock.
Rocks are certainly useful here, but what is there to eat? The seeds aren’t worth much, and these people don’t eat seeds, anyway. Here’s a shocking photo that shows the story of seeds and fire in this new landscape of weeds. Loud and clear.
Seeds from Hell
Well, the Asian Steppes, at any rate. Sorry, Russia. Not your fault.
Everything is burnt up pretty well here, but all the fire seems to have done to the knapweed (a most vile and evil invasive form of diesel fuel with leaves full of bitterness and aggression) is to wait and wait and wait, and then, once the fire has done its nasty deed, release its seeds on top of the ash, ta da, just like that. Those are the piles that look like deer do-do. Ouch. And it’s hot. I tried to find a way to show how this landscape is still a landscape of water, just in a totally transformed way. Here’s my attempt at making a dramatic visualization of that…
Spring Water! Pure Glacial Water! Nothing too good for my rocks. Note the boiled prickly pear cacti. By the way, I think they’ll make it. It looks like only the upper, what, arms? sausages? are scorched, and lower down there’s still life, at least in the bigger clusters. Did you get the metaphor? How the blue of the lake is still tied to this black soil, somehow? Did that work for you?
Well, I had fun, at any rate. I was questioned about this by two separate firemen. One came down from high up on the hill. He took down my name. It seems that lots of people come to fire scenes and strew garbage everywhere, so that it looks like the firemen did it. Gets them down, it does. Well, yeah.
Aka A Fireman’s Bad Day. You just don’t expect artists going around in your active field of operations, you don’t. But, give the guys credit. They didn’t even blink. Once we all agreed that I’d stay away from the angry rattlers up the hill, we were all good. They went off to chop at roots. I went off to … well, chop at the dust in my own head.
Now, doesn’t that scene look like it might be taken by the Curiosity Rover. Well, if you squint? No? Some planet circling among the stars, at any rate? So much imagination. No wonder the deer, those lovely space creatures, just graze and ignore me. Meanwhile, the firemen are hard at work, protecting my house while we all figure out what to do with this new kind of grassland, and while, you can put good money down on it, the weeds figure out what they can manage to pull off in this transformed landscape …
Fire Crew Extinguishing Hot Spots
“Some of them,” said the deputy fire chief, “are a little afraid of the snakes.” Well, yeah. A rattlesnake in your helmet. You don’t want that every day. Note the fire retardant in the background, and its excellent match with the firefighters’ suits. Well, those that don’t match my water bottles. The world is art.
You’ve got to hand it to the rattlers, though. Clever. The alternative is something they haven’t seen in, oh, I dunno, fifty generations … neither have we. We’ll have to figure this out together.
Life, in a Form Just on the Edge of Memory
In some way, this interface between fire and life is a natural part of the life of this place.
I’ll let you know how the story unfolds.