Walking the Land is like being inside a story, the best of stories: rich and quirky characters, riveting twisting plot, all the great themes. Love. Community. Hardship, Humor. Yet the story is sometimes hard to follow, so tangled, like a crushing mass of grapevine twining atop the bramble. Not yesterday. Not one week after the burn.
40 acres of ash-black backdrop crunching beneath my booted foot. Suddenly an image grabs my attention, a single frame of story preserved like a Pompeii juggler at the very instant the ash descended, complete in all its wonder and horror. Now a good story contains nothing more than a series of baiting questions (implied if not directly posed) embedded within an anecdote. Who did what to whom and why? And yesterday each ash-framed scene did indeed pose a question, a question normally muffled beneath waves of grass now granted voice by the miracle of the burn.
What force granted wood betony---so strange in her parasitic beauty---the unique power to spare her flowers from the flames?
So, you little sperm shaped sprouts, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Little bird: was your nest, one of hundreds upon hundreds I’ve seen today, built last year or did I destroy this spring's labor?
Who---like some wild-armed oil painter---flung shreds of red elm bark so far out onto the canvas of the prairie?
Momma turkey: did you abandon your egg to the choking smoke or did some other creature find it before the flames?
Deer hunter: did your knife slip your pocket or did you accidentally leave it after gutting your deer?
Oh Savanna the Wonder Dog, I’m walking your namesake trail after a burn again , are you?
The rule of storytelling, what keeps me turning the page, is that each question will eventually be dealt with, if not directly answered. But yesterday, as I walked away from each ash-framed scene, the question lingered. Unanswered. Should I go back out there today, seek the answer? I think not. As I gaze out the bank of windows onto the glory of what remains, the Land says “not yet.” Perhaps this story is like so much great art. Perhaps the question is the answer.