After the fire – Beauty

We burned our prairie this spring, and the fire my husband lit spread rapidly through the dried residue of the previous year’s grasses and flowers. Within minutes, we were left with nothing but a bare, black expanse.

The prairie was bare, but not barren. Within a few weeks, green began to show and now, only two month’s later, all evidence of the fire has disappeared. In its place are a multitude of flowers and grasses. After a burn, flowers are actually more plentiful. and we may see flowers we haven’t seen before. Here are a few prairie bright spots since the burn.

Fire moves rapidly through prairie residue.

Fire moves rapidly through prairie residue.

Spiderwort is one of the earliest flowers.

Spiderwort is one of the earliest flowers.

Butterfly milkweed is the only orange flower we see, and it's stunning.

Butterfly milkweed is the only orange flower we see, and it’s stunning.

This is the first year I've spotted whorled milkweed in our prairie.

This is the first year I’ve spotted whorled milkweed in our prairie.

A pale purple coneflower also made its first appearance.

A pale purple coneflower also made its first appearance.

Wild bergamot, butterfly milkweed, and common sunflower - beautiful in combination.

Wild bergamot, butterfly milkweed, and common sunflower – beautiful in combination.

A common milkweed blossom.

A common milkweed blossom.

Fire is a necessary element of a healthy prairie, and we burn ours every four years.

Have you walked in a prairie? If so, what was your experience? If you have not been yet, I encourage you to do so.  The prairie offers infinite beauty.


  1. I’ve been wondering how your prairie is looking. Thanks for the update!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I know I’ve been lax in prairie updates, Linda. More news on the prairie front coming.

  2. Brooke Benschoter says:

    Thank you – love reading about this.

  3. These flowers are called weeds, but they’re so beautiful!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      It’s all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? I know that I have quite a few garden flowers that are invasive enough in the way they spread that I’m often inclined to think of them as weeds. Someone wisely pointed out that a weed is any plant growing where you don’t want it.

  4. Beautiful, Carol!
    I am lacking in prairie lore. How do you keep the fire from spreading beyond where you want it to spread?

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Prairies should have a 10-foot buffer between it and trees. We wait for a day when the wind is low and we also keep rakes and water at hand. Our prairie is small enough for us to handle. Friends who have big prairies often get the local fire department involved to be sure they don’t get out of control. Having watched how fast these things burn, we know caution is well advised.

      • That’s interesting. I had no idea!

        As for weeds, I think many of the flowers we have are probably weeds, but if they’re pretty, we keep them. Fields of wildflowers are beautiful, and as you point out, important for butterflies and other creatures.

        • Carol Bodensteiner says:

          I expect many flowers are domesticated wild plants. Interesting to think that some plants hit a fork in the road and someone decided they were either pretty enough to become “flowers” and others problematic enough to be “weeds.” We name most things for our own purposes. Something to think about, eh?

  5. Beauty from ashes, Phoenix rising – these images come to mind reading your piece today. No need to talk about analogies to life: The photos speak for themselves. Thank you, Carol.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You’re quite right, Marian. The prairie always offers life lessons and analogies aplenty. I knew readers (and writers) would spot them without my nudging.

  6. Prairies are indeed beautiful IF maintained. By that I mean obnoxious “weeds” are kept under control and not left to produce seed that invariably end up in a neighbors flower bed. Just my opinion.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Yes, there is maintenance required, Bernie. I regularly remove various thistles, dandelions,horse weed, and smart weed from the prairie. Left to their own devices, these weeds would overrun everything else.

      The thing about “weeds,” though, is that the designation is sometimes a matter of opinion. Common milkweed, for instance. I grew up – as I expect you did – considering this an obnoxious weed to be eliminated. Now we understand the importance to butterflies. So I encourage it, not only in the prairie but when it shows up in my flower beds.

      Meanwhile, in my garden, plants that are considered desirable, e.g. snow on the mountain, sweet William and cone flowers, have expanded to the point I consider them weeds.

      It’s a topsy-turvy world.

  7. Fire can be a wonderful thing!! Thanks for this lovely post.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You’re welcome, Joan. Fire is also beautiful in itself. Were it not, we wouldn’t spend so much time in front of fireplaces.

  8. Nan Johnson says:

    Hi Carol. You asked: Have you walked in a prairie? Indeed I have. My husband and I have a prairie on our farm in Missouri. We’ve divided the acreage into nine sections and burn according to a schedule. We mow a buffer, too, and start a back burn that snuffs out the fire once it reaches the burnt area. We have rakes, water, and plenty of hands at the ready. Getting up close and personal to fire of such magnitude certainly makes a person respect its power. Flames can leap 15 – 20 feet in the air and the fire rages across the designated field in a matter of minutes. We’ve been burning for over a decade now, and each time I am still impressed by the sight, the sound, and the fury! The burnt ground quickly comes back to life, stronger and healthier than ever.
    A walk in the prairie is always rewarding, regardless of the season; rejuvenating tonic for one’s spirit. Thank you for sharing your pictures!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I, too, am impressed by the power of the prairie fire. When we burned the first time, I could not help but imagine a prairie wildfire and how terrifying it would have been to see one coming at you – whether you were on foot or horseback or if your homestead stood in its path. We must respect the power of fire and each time we burn, my respect for firefighters is renewed. Thanks for sharing your prairie experience, Nan. I would love to walk in your prairie sometime.

      • Nan Johnson says:

        I think about what homesteaders would have faced, too. Carol, you are welcome anytime!

        • Carol Bodensteiner says:

          I frequently see my author friends when I travel; visiting prairie friends would be a fun addition to the itinerary. Thanks for the offer, Nan. You just never know.

  9. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder says:

    Our son-in-law has a prairie garden and I have learned a lot about the various flowers. He did his MA thesis on the tiny prairie orchid, which is quite rare.
    A thought came to me after I read about how much more plentiful everything is after a fire. Could that be applied to our lives as well? After experiencing suffering, do we have more compassion for others, more understanding, more love?

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      An interesting observation, Elfrieda. I think everything is more plentiful in both the prairie after a fire and in humans after suffering. In addition to the flowers after a fire, there are also more weeds. The range of human reactions after a crisis is equally diverse – as we’re seeing this week around the country. In addition to compassion, understanding, and love, there is depression, anger, and hate. It depends on the person. After a prairie fire, I have to manage the weeds to let the desirable plants prevail. We can only hope that with the right tending, understanding, compassion and love blossom from our national crisis. Thanks for helping me think this through.

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