Saturday, April 2, 2011

Burning to make it happen.

The initial burn
The spreading fire
Add caption
I can still smell the smoke. It's emanating from my clothes and my hair. I've got ashes on my face, and my lungs may have inhaled a bit too much smoke. But, boy am I thrilled! This morning (even before I had my coffee) our neighbor, Alvin, came over with his propane torch and set fire to the garden. It'd been mowed Wednesday afternoon, so the tall weeds were lying on the ground like hay. Alvin wanted to burn the field before he disced it to make it easier to break apart and to kill some of the seeds, especially the millet and alfalfa that grew over much of the garden last summer. We were going to burn the garden yesterday afternoon, but the wind was far too strong, ushering in a series of showers and then thunderstorms in the evening. This morning, bright & sunny morning with a growing breeze out of the west, Alvin returned and we set fire to the garden. It only took lighting a small area for the flames to catch, and with the help of the wind, they rolled slowly but steadily eastward across the field. Now to a Colorado boy like myself, the idea of purposefully setting fire to the land is frightening, as there
 these things tend to turn into infernos. But Alvin was confident the conditions were perfect: a steady, but not too gusty breeze combined with last night's rainfall meant perfect controlled burning conditions. And he was right. We stood by and watched as the fire spread smoke (filling the woods and the creek beds, blowing over his mom's house and down toward our other neighbors... what a nice way for them to wake up on an otherwise beautiful Saturday morning), with our rakes at the ready to put out any eager licks of flame. Alvin showed me how to brush the fire back onto itself and I was surprised that it worked so easily to suppress the fire. It took about ninety minutes to burn the majority of the field, and the flames never got out of control. (Although I worried when the weeds at the base of the telephone pole caught fire.) While we were tending the fire, Alvin told me stories about the neighbors and the guy who used to farm this place. All the neighbors get along now, but things were not always so civil. I guess there was a time when the folks at the end of the road wanted to be on city water, but someone on our end of the road didn't want the pipes going

The field after burning
Alvin discing
through his fields during which, Alvin said, some things were said and some voices were raised. Things have calmed down since then, though, and Alvin echoed a thought we've had more than once: this road may have some of the nicest folks around. While the field burned, I was also thinking about some of the books I have read recently. How humans have always burned

 prior to planting. Once it was forests, and then it was grasses. And here I was, standing where the woods meet the grasslands, burning to make agriculture... Glad to be doing such ancient work. Once the flames were out, Alvin went to fetch his tractor and I went inside to make some coffee. When we met up again, the wind had really picked up, which means that we had the timing just perfect. Alvin said he wanted to get the first discing (turning the soil with a tractor) done real quick, so we could both be indoors while the farmer on the field directly west of our property fertilized. That farmer has a big red tractor that today was pulling two tanks of ammonia fertilizer that is worked directly into the soil. Alvin said he might also be spreading some weed killer. But whatever, the fumes are toxic and if they caught the wind, they'd blow right to where we were working. As Alvin disced the garden, in ever-tightening circles, I was thinking about how this is likely to be the only time this growing season a big piece of machinery is going to be working on my garden. After this point, it'll all be Joe-power. My job while Alvin disced was to pick up wooden poles (broom handles) and metal poles that we'd missed from the ground. The guy who farmed here before really did put a lot of poles into the ground. Alvin said he never could work out what they were all for, but said that he couldn't always understand the whys and hows of what the previous tenant did. I know that I'm grateful to have Alvin's help. He refused any sort of payment, saying he's glad to see the garden worked again, and said to call on him whenever I need help. Right now, as the sun shines and the wind blows in the next storm system, I am about to get serious about figuring out what will go where and when. It's just over an acre of garden I've got out there... And for the first time, it really looks like a garden I can work!

1 comment: