The first flowers of spring are the tiniest—
henbit, veronica–and the humblest—
dandelion, crabapple. There is magic in you
and it wants to come out. The bees are hungry.
White cat waiting silently when you come home:
glance at the sky for a second as you open the door,
and she will be inside already when you get there.
The river is always where it is,
always flowing, whether you go to watch it
or not. So what if you and the disease have
evolved together, turning and circling round
in a long helical dance? Who says you need
all that heavy equipment to build up the school?
Just put yourself on the table of the healer crone,
where ancient song repeats endlessly
in golden light. This place, this moment,
this magic has always been here,
waiting for you to arrive.
Dear friends, it is I, Veronica Speedwell. Perhaps you thought you’d heard the last from me; But no. Spring positively requires poetry about flowers, and that is a job for me, whether Rachel likes it or not.
Snows of the Prairie
White fluff falls from the sky
of a glorious early spring day.
Cottonwood seeds catch the breeze:
Snow in May
The sunflowers peak and die back—
summer’s last ember.
White heath breaks into bloom!
Snow in September.
The kids wanted me to play outside with them. Be a Hogwarts professor, they said. I had a million things to do, but it was a fine day and it seemed reasonable to take an excuse to do the outside stuff instead of the inside stuff, so I said I would, because: about a month ago, I got spring fever and bought some tomato seeds and planted way more than I have space to grow, and I’ve never had much success with tomatoes from seed, until this time. So I needed to prep a bed for them. I told the kids I’d be Herbology professor and we’d study nightshades.
So I started digging and first thing, Kiran (Hogwarts name Lila Blackwing, because she is my daughter in Hogwarts world, and I am Lucretia Blackwing) asked me what I wanted to teach about nightshade. She said it made her think of “deadly nightshade,” and I concurred that some nightshades are deadly, but there was one in particular that we commonly eat. She was not able to guess it, even when I told her that what I was doing at that moment was a hint. Finally I told her tomatoes.
Rowan (Hogwarts name Stella Galaxy) was in a more academic mood (I always think she should be a Ravenclaw, but she was a Slytherin today), so I told her to go inside and get my Jeanne Rose Herbal and look up nightshade and write me a report on it. She couldn’t find the book so she started searching the internet. Conveniently, her computer is next to a window that overlooks the tomato bed-to-be, so I told her to search “Solanum,” and she found an enormous amount of information. I’d forgotten, myself, that potatoes are nightshades, too. She took lots of notes, but I haven’t seen the report yet.
I dug until I hit some concrete, and couldn’t plant a tomato there. Kevin came home from church and we got ready to go the the in-laws’ for Sunday dinner. So it was a fruitful morning. I did a small amount of gardening, got some sun and fresh air, and progressed in my ongoing lesson that magic is absolutely real, and everything is magical, if you’re willing to look at it the right way.
I promised you some pictures of burning prairie, and here they are. I couldn’t get as close as I wanted, without going into privately owned pastures. From the road I did get some dramatic flames and some blackened ground and some distance shots of black and smoking horizons. Maybe next year I’ll talk to some ranchers and get out in their pastures when they’re burning.
Like the return of turkey vulture, prairie burning is a sign of spring in the Flint Hills. It isn’t the terrifying disaster some might imagine; the burns are lit intentionally to clear dead plant matter that would choke out new growth. From the blackened ground will emerge fresh grass, greener and more nutritious to the animals who graze here. It is considered an essential part of prairie stewardship, and it also raises the monetary value of a pasture. Prairie never burned or grazed by a hoofed animal eventually turns to woodland. Burning kills off the invasive trees, while the deep roots of the native grasses are left to send up new green shoots.
While I haven’t heard anyone criticizing the practice of burning the prairie, there is some debate about how often it ought to be done. Many ranchers burn annually, and profit from that practice. At the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, they burn once every three years, and find that allows for greater diversity of plants, most notably, more wildflowers.
Weather conditions must be right for burning. Strong wind can blow the fire out of control. No wind allows it to burn out in all directions. A light, steady breeze is ideal, so that the flames advance in a predictable line, from one side of a pasture to the other. There may not be many days when the season and weather are right, so when they come, there’s a lot of burning all around. The smoke burns the eyes, and, even miles away, tiny bits of ash come falling from the sky.
Yesterday smelled like a camp fire, everywhere, all day. My client from Emporia reported smoke thick as fog on Highway 50. The fires at night are beautiful to see, but the day was preternatural and I couldn’t wait until dark. I went to the high spot at the scenic overlook, and though I didn’t see any blackened prairie, I got a few shots of the smoky hills.
It’s smoky again today, so maybe I’ll get a chance to photograph some actual flames. For now, here are some smoke shots, and I’ll post more later.
I saw another group of geese flying north today. (Here’s the photo I took last week.) I’d estimate there were about two hundred, though I wasn’t able to get a shot, as I was moving about 65 miles per hour, and there was a truck right behind me. Here’s a picture that looks similar to what I saw. I had thought that snow geese tend to fly more in an arc formation than the signature V shape of the Canada goose, though other photos of snow geese show them in very pointy Vs.
I’m going to go with these as snow geese, nonetheless. With the sun behind them, they reminded me of a shimmering ribbon, showing more white than I’d expect to see on Canada geese. The snow goose migration is reported to be trailing off in some places, but still well underway in the northern midwest, so these may have been stragglers, held up by the rain and wind of the last few days. They must be anxious to get to their summer home in the arctic, and get on with the business of breeding.
That’s all I have today. What signs do you see of the quickening of spring? Or, is it fall where you live? Take a moment to notice what’s happening with the earth wherever you are, and tell us about it.