Feeling The Burn?

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"I don't believe anyone should ignore all the fires around you and stand pat and not worry about getting singed" - Rick Santelli

I grew up in a household with all girls. I understand girls. As a parent to 4 boys I have been in for quite a few shocks.  Boys have an irresistible and insatiable thirst for fire. They love blowing things up and lighting anything on fire. They get a thrill out of launching objects out of homemade cannons. The bigger the flames, the more their eyes glaze over in excitement.  Not surprisingly my husband is just as fascinated by fire as the boys….

We live on rich farmland that was once home to green fleshy alfalfa. Over the years the alfalfa has slowly been overrun by grasses and weeds. Coupled with that, I continue to add to my garden and went through a fad of planting a huge swath of ornamental grasses. Ornamental grasses are easy care plants with so many varieties, sizes, and colors available for every planting zone. I love how they whisper in the wind and the wildlife enjoys their shelter. They do have one big drawback. They are a pain to cut down in the spring and it takes me days to do so. Enter fire.

 For years my husband would burn down my grasses which is quick, easy, and it is a healthy way to get rid of dead debris. The grasses come back stronger and look better, not to mention that it is easier to mulch around them! In the process he also burned branches of my pine trees, started our shed on fire, and torched plants that didn’t appreciate it much. He also conducted a planned burning of our field one February and the neighbors freaked out and called the fire department. I stayed inside and hid. He welcomed our new neighbors by burning a part of the field that leaped out of control. Luckily the new neighbor had a bulldozer and stamped the fire out.

Aside from my resin birdbath that “somehow” melted, the burn holes in some of my garden art, and mysterious items being shot out of tubes, my son decided to help me out last week and burn down my 30 grasses to get rid of the debris. What he forgot was the fact that fire is hot and I now have 5 somewhat crispy conifers in my conifer garden. No comment on my response to that! He meant well but fire burns and jumps up too easy!

Fire can be a friend to your landscape – if controlled

·         Prairies and woods alike can become congested and overgrown with scrub. Fire quickly clears debris so that the sun can reach the underlying plants and new growth bounces up from the ground.
·         Burning an area is an effective way to save your back from hours of cutting and lifting if done carefully (i.e. no teenage boys allowed to lead the project).
·         Fire can effectively kill invasive weeds or plants not native to an area. Local flora may be adapted to fire/heat survival whereas that weed from Japan will permanently melt.
·         My grass garden is a large charred patch but guess what? I can now easily control any weed growth or Poison Ivy that rears up because it has no place to hide!
·         Fire is a wicked enemy to a variety of plant diseases and even harmful insects that may prey gardens and woodlands.
·         Controlled forest fires encourage diverse plants and new ecosystems.
·         Fires are Mother Nature’s way of giving life. A variety of seeds need flames or smoke in order to germinate. They may wait 20 years before they have a chance to spring to life after a fire.
·         As with anything that decomposes in the soil, scientists are finding that fires and even smoke actually nourish the soil and build nutrients.
·         Research shows that in some cases fire and smoke actually help plants develop into stronger species.

Certainly I’m not suggesting that you run out and burn your landscape down. However, be mindful that in some cases it is beneficial.  Fire really gets us all moving but it needs to be purposeful. Fires don’t have to be destructive and it’s all in how you handle it! How fire benefits living things

“Really, most of us just focus on what’s in front of us. We’re too busy putting out the fires of everyday life” – Aidan Quinn

Man has relied on fire for survival for millions of years and we all know the benefits and perils of what it can do. Aside from being a toy for boys, fire gets our attention and we all hop when it flares. I had a job a few years ago where every day was a fire drill and that’s all our team did - fight fires or stomp down flare ups. Fires planned our day and guided our decisions. We were jumping from problem to problem without ever lending a permanent solution to any of them. The team had a hard time moving forward and no one “owned” anything because we were all jumping around. We had no time to plan or strategize projects or where we were ultimately heading. It was a stressful environment to work in and we literally, well, burned out.

Fighting constant fires is exhausting and takes a toll. Ask anyone who fights wildfires for weeks on end. Processes are amiss, solutions aren’t implemented, strategic planning blows away in the wind, and mistakes flourish. You may have unwittingly become a “firefighter” without realizing and you need to stomp out the flames immediately.

Are there fires in your midst?

·         There is no focus or no attention to detail because the smoke is too thick.
·         Your days are spent addressing issues as they hit the fan rather than preventing problems.
·         You can only patch things so much before you need to replace the whole system.
·         The alarms are always ringing and there is no time to implement systems to stop the flames.
·         Sloppy mistakes are made. Details are missed. People blame each other.
·         Productivity and team morale goes down into ashes.
·         Empowerment vanishes like smoke and no one feels accountable for fear of another fire.
·         The ashes left over are tough to sift through to rebuild what once was.
·         There are more problems than people and everything continues to smolder around you.

Fire is definitely our friend and our foe. It gives life but is also destructive. It stops us from moving forward or it propels us to react. In the end, it’s up to us how we react and we use the fire around us. How did you handle your last fire?