The flames spread across the prairie like a living being, tendrils reaching, grasping, burning. The air is charcoal smoke chasing birds out of bushes and rabbits into burrows. Fire consumes it all – bluestem, bergamot and aster, thistle, ragweed and fleabane. When it is over, there is nothing left but singed leaves and black hills. The glory of the prairie – all the brilliant yellow petals, leaves tinged with red, and grasses tall as man – all are memories from an autumn day last year or the one before.
And from the earth springs new life.
In the winter woods, there is no color. Gray sky hangs heavy over leafless trees with bony fingers and haunting silhouettes. When the wind carries a solitary note, steady, pulsing and relentless, there are no birds to add a harmony. The snow has whitewashed everything, stealing purple from the violets and emerald from the leaves. It is beautiful when sunlit and hideous when not.
And still, from this frozen earth, new life will spring.
But what of the flooded valley, swallowed by a greedy river running rampant in the spring? The water crumbles hillsides and makes islands disappear. I find no peaceful walks besides the river’s edge, only angry water raging in a channel, carrying logs along its way. Where are my marsh marigolds and why does the river that I love hate me in return?
But even so, new life will return.
What the fire didn’t know is that the prairie roots grew deep. When the flames raged above, the rhizomes reached out anyway, growing deeper into soil. Not too long thereafter, new shoots sprang up through blackened soil, stronger than before. The legumes sent out nitrogen to nurture other plants and the new growth found new room to grow without the choking weeds.
What the winter didn’t know is that the forest was persistent. When the air turned brittle, the trees pulled inward, storing sugar in their toes. The bears dozed and the birds flew on, but none were truly gone. Even the larva, buried deep beneath the soil, slept dreaming of the forest floor which it would soon inhabit. Soon springtime came and the trees sent out new leaves, bright green and radiant with life. The birds flew home and the insects roamed across another joyous summer.
The river, though, somehow I think it knew that its rampage was soon over. Its water churned with mud and grit but its angst was a fleeting notion. And through it all, the cottonwood stood patiently beside. When water finally ebbed away, leaving fertile soil in its wake, it ensured that here, especially here, new life would spring from the earth.
And when one day I found myself along the river’s edge, I thought how happy I was to have seen the marigolds on the way.