A Pasque Revival
A fine dusting of powdery ash has begun to cover everything. The past few weeks have seen the beginning of controlled burning season here in the southern Driftless Area. Remnant and restored prairies, oak savanna and select wetlands are being put to the torch in a very precise manner. The purpose is to preserve the natural fire-dependent vegetation and to sear away invasive plant life.
Last year, after a nearly year-long period of intense, personal isolation I decided to volunteer for controlled burns. For nearly ten years now I have tried to spend time doing some sort of labor in a natural setting. I even spent over a year laboring on Blue Mounds tending to the karst terrain. I’ve also volunteered for invasive plant removal with different organizations, usually eliminating invasive brush. It offered me a means to connect directly to this earth on which we live, and at times also offered a method of self flagellation.
Last year was to be something different, and in the end more meaningful to me. You see, I was a man on fire. You couldn’t see the flames with human eyes but self identity was being reduced to a fine powder. A combination of the pandemic, life changes, tragedy and heartbreak had changed me. I won’t downplay the painfulness of the experience, but I also don’t believe I need to explain it? I mean, so many families have suffered huge upheavals. Everyone has a story.
For me it was a crucible that burned away the fluff. As I was approaching my first full year of sobriety that early spring of 2021, I decided to try to reconnect to society. One day a random email arrived in my inbox from the Dane County Parks Department. I had once provided photos of locations and events for their publications, and somehow my email got mixed in with the controlled-burn list.
Happenstance, the theme of my life. I responded to the sign-up. I showed up to work. I met some of the most awesome people. Simple. The depth of knowledge I found was as complex and deep as the fire-dependent ecosystems we were burning. The quiet professionalism of the crew leaders, and having scientific staff on hand reminded me of my past as a museum exhibit artist. I cannot think of a better way for my reintroduction to life outside of my own personal version of Purgatory.
Here it is another early spring in the oak savannas and grasslands that offer me sanctuary from the insanity of mankind. It’s ironic that I once fled to remote nature areas as a means to escape humanity. In my isolation I found my own strength. When I stepped out of that self isolation it was with cleansing fire and a sense of partnership with enthusiastic people.
On this day the stars are literally aligning. What better day than today to really begin being more honest in my writing? And what better image to display than one born of last year’s fire? The Pasque Flower (Anemone Pulsatilla) blooms among the first flowers each spring. For me it acts as a symbol of renewed commitment to “rise from the ashes,” as they say. It’s my hope that with time and work, this photo essay project/portfolio will help me find my way to a life of quiet professionalism and knowledge. Whether or not it works is yet to be seen, all I know is that I’m now 666 days sober. Hopefully this too shall be a rebirth of my soul’s native fauna.