For many ecosystems fire has always been an important aspect when it comes to replenishing lost nutrients and resupplying the seed bank. For thousands of years some native peoples of North America have used fire as a tool, to clear out dense underbrush and make an area easier to hunt, harvest, travel, or defend. This view of fire as a contributor to, rather than a destroyer of, ecosystem health has made a comeback into mainstream of ecosystem management, and now prescribed fire is commonplace in the field.
Walking into the Dow Prairie at Nichols Arboretum we equipped ourselves with fire retardant coveralls, water backpacks, drip torches, and other tools of the trade. Setting the fire down wind on the north edge of the 2 acre unit allowed for a slow, controlled burn, but shifty winds did prove difficult. At times the crackle of water vaporizing inside the tall grass and exploding outward was deafening. The radiant heat blasted our faces, and we were constantly on the move, hoping to stay out in front of the smoke, gazing back at our work in progress, knowing that in all this death and destruction life awaits, as it always does. There is nothing else like it.