[TEXT ARCHIVE WEB-PUBLISHED
ORIGINAL PRINT PUBLICATION DATE: FALL 1998.]
the Home Fires Burning
generations of us inculcated with the gospel according to
Smokey, setting fire to woods and prairies on purpose amounts
to blasphemy. Yet those who love the land have been wrestling
with some new ideas about fire new ideas that are
turns out that our native landscape was bathed by fire,
evolved under fire, thrived on fire. Only when we denied
fire, through our civilizing intercession, did plants and
animals living in fire-dependent ecosystems themselves begin
disappearing wholesale from the land. As Alex Blumberg so
ably points out in "Fire
As a Friend", prairies without fire are like rainforests
without rain: an aberration, a sick and dying thing.
4 and 8 in the Fall
1998 print issue are graced with the noble paintings
of George Catlin (for which we are deeply indebted to the
Gilcrease Museum of Tulsa, Oklahoma). Catlin was an artist
and hero. A young lawyer in 1832, he one day disposed of
all his worldly attachments, stocked up on artist's supplies,
and embarked on a life beyond the frontier, painting Native
Americans and their landscape, often as the first Euro-American
to visit a given tribe or watershed.
"The prairies burning form some of the most beautiful
scenes that are to be witnessed in this country," Catlin
wrote, "and also some of the most sublime. Every acre
of these vast prairies (being covered for hundred and hundreds
of miles, with a crop of grass, which dies and dries in
the fall) burns over during the fall or early in the spring,
leaving the ground of a black and doleful color.
are many modes by which fire is communicated to them, both
by white men and by Indians par accident; and yet
many more where it is voluntarily done for the purpose of
getting a fresh crop of grass, for the grazing of their
horses, and also for easier travelling during the next summer."
Chicagua and the ancestral lands throughout the Midwest
burned and burned often.
now we burn again to save the nature that was and remains
the heritage of this region. Even in the city we burn
carefully, under highly prescribed conditions, to be sure
yet whoever would restore them must torch our ancient
grasses and oak woodlands.
prospect confounds. Burning today is counter-intuitive.
Then the scientists produce the data, and we learn the need
to burn a prairie to keep it healthy. Yes, I say to fire
as a friend, yes.
Wilderness itself is confounding. We humans have trammeled
the landscape for eons, shaping and being shaped
by the living land.
abiding, affirming vision of Chicago Wilderness is neither
to trash humans as abusers, nor to revere nature as something
somehow untouched by the hand of man. The abiding, affirming
vision of Chicago Wilderness is a middle course, namely,
that humans and other species share a home, that we can
shape and be shaped by each other in mutually beneficial
ways. Our adventure, like Catlin's, is one of discovery
and change. And what we learn may mean the difference between
life and death for much of local nature.We learn and we
reach out to friends and neighbors with this welcoming message
of restoration and renewal. Yes, I say to Chicago Wilderness,
Shore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.