Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Frost wrote these lines in a poem noted for its ambiguity. But I find these lines resonate with me as I hike the prairie in early March. Fire and ice – or perhaps, the order should be reversed for the tallgrass: ice and then, fire. But unlike Frost’s poem, without the tempering of fire and ice, the prairie would cease to exist.
It’s all ice now; beginning to melt into slush as the temperatures start their teasing climb into the 30s and 40s. A little flirting with the low 50s. Where the sun shines brightest, the snowmelt pocks the prairie with mudholes. Old coyote tracks fill with water. They freeze, thaw again, freeze.
The life of the prairie is on hold. It depends on ice — or at least a cold winter — for certain seeds to grow and for other plants to have a dormancy period. But, as the Beatles sang, “It’s been a long, cold lonely winter.”
Send us the fire.
The prescribed burn just around the corner will wipe the prairie slate clean, ready for the sums of a new year to be chalked upon it. The tallgrass needs fire to keep the trees and brush from infilterating —- then dominating —- the landscape. But lightning strikes are suppressed, and Native Americans no longer set intentional fires for hunting. It’s up to restorationists to keep the prairie as an open grassland. We burn it ourselves, mimicking the past.
The ying and the yang of fire and ice remind me that the prairie has evolved to survive the extremes of Midwestern weather. Sometimes, when I’m going through a rough patch, this cycle reminds me that the difficulties I’m wrestling with are part of a season that will eventually pass. Rather than destructive, the seasons of fire and ice are lifegiving. They set the stage for something new.
We’ve got the ice. Enough already.
Now, bring on the fire.
(All photos by Cindy Crosby. Top: Tenting at sunset at Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; ice, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, SP, 2013; fire on the SP, 2013; ice designs with grass, SP)