The weather early in the morning was drizzly and grey. And a little moisture, logic tells us, isn't all bad when you're out in the woods trying to set piles of brush on fire. But the rain held off and the fire was started easily. We all gave the burn bosses an A+ for their effort, and before too long we were off to the races.
My assignment yesterday was helping to tend the fire. This involved stoking the fire with the older brush that had been stacked on the one hand - and trying to keep the fire in it's place on the other. This sounds easy enough, but this particular pile started off burning so well and so hot that keeping it in bounds kept us on our toes as we diligently kept an eye out for wayward sparks on the sea of oak leaves carpeting the forest floor nearby.
I think there is something primal and festive about these brush pile burns. When I was a child, the use of fire was a little more routine than it is today. One of my chores then was to rake up the leaves in our yard, which we then burned out by the curb. And sometimes there would also be holiday bonfires in the local parks - two customs that seemed to be pretty well abandoned in the early 70's. I also believe that there is a lot of gratification in seeing heaps of invasive buckthorn put to the torch. Controlling this species locally is a huge undertaking, and the work is difficult and dirty. Seeing it disappear in a cloud of smoke is a fitting reward.
Along with dispatching this enemy I find great satisfaction in seeing the adjacent natural areas expand and improve as a result of such efforts. Not far from here is a prairie remnant that was originally noted in 19th century land surveys. This tiny gem may have been lost forever were it not for such concentrated efforts to fight invasive species, urbanization, neglect, and abuse. As it stands in 2014, things are looking better - but we're not out of the woods yet (ahem!).
Site Steward Victor Guarino spreading the ashes of another successful brush pile burn.
Ecological restoration is still an emerging, imperfect science. A great deal of this work is done by volunteers, people who want to do something in response to the loss of nature that seems to have accompanied the rise of modern society. Site stewards Victor and Jean Guarino have devoted decades of service to this cause, and have influenced and inspired many in the region. Yesterday's meeting brought together a mix of people - new and old - and it was a good day for nature along the Des Plaines.