Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Prairie Fire Revisited

The renewing power of fire in nature cannot be understated and the other day I had a firsthand chance to witness it.  A few months ago, a controlled burn was used on a tall grass prairie established and maintained by close friends, Rick and Toni Sturtz.  They are caretakers of this plot of land, returning it to a native environment common to much of Wisconsin a hundred plus years ago.  In an age of habitat loss, it’s refreshing to see even a small gain in restoring what was once here.
 As a photographer, I think I need to tackle a project, a theme or body of work from time to time-just to force myself into something different.  Three graduate credits for a photo project will work too!  My idea was to return to this prairie I’d photographed during the fire, to take a close up view of it now that the black ash of the burned vegetation is swallowed up by new growth.  I drive or pedal by it every day it seems during the summer, but that’s not the same as walking among the Big Blue Stem, cone flowers and Bee Balm.  Of course, with a camera and extra lenses along, it also changes how I walk and what I’m seeing.
 With the sweltering days and humidity, it’s been pretty common to have ground fog in the morning and with the addition of some clouds, a beauty sunrise.  Photographers call it the “Golden Hour” for a reason, and once the sun climbs a few too many degrees in the sky that magic light becomes mundane.  The low fog on this morning added a mysterious quality to the landscape and the east sky didn’t disappoint.  I switched up lenses from time to time, wanting to capture the vastness of the prairie ( it’s just 35 acres or so, but the largest parcel of tall grass around here) with the wide angle and then sometimes a long lens to pull in the smallest detail of what is hidden here.   I’m no wildflower expert, so part of my shooting was just “collecting” images to identify later.  It’s amazing how much variety is really out in a prairie.
 Although some species of wildlife need and thrive in tall grass, many times, they stay hidden, but on this morning I caught fawn looking at me, looking at her.  “She” was hunkered down near a scrape pond, sunlight making her alert ears glow.  I managed a couple frames before a few steps too close sent her bounding high across the field.  I continued on, finding some interesting dew beaded spider webs, some Prairie Blazing Star, and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Along the way, other flowers were past their prime, flowering earlier in the summer to start off the season with a flourish of color.  It’ll be interesting to watch different species move to the forefront as the days shorten and temps cool.  Never a dull moment here. 
 The First Nations people living here long ago knew the importance of fire, just as mother nature always has in renewing and revitalizing some habitat.  I’m grateful to have such great stewards of the land just a few miles away and the opportunity take in, with all my senses (and camera) this unique and beautiful land.