Renewal of the Spirit Burning the Prairie Soul

“It is good to renew ourselves, from time to time, by closely examining the state of our souls, as if we had never done it before; for nothing tends more to the full assurance of faith, than to keep ourselves by this means in humility, and the exercise of all good works.” ~ John Wesley

It was a typical Wisconsin Spring Day in April. The high was 48 degrees with a 10 mph SW wind that seemed to change direction as I walked towards the Prairie we were about to burn. Prairie grasses were blowing in the wind under clear deep blue skies.

Over the years I had learned a great deal about the life cycles of the flowers and grasses that flourished here. Today I was amazed by my own spiritual growth and transformation over the past month. My epiphany came about 4 weeks ago during a spiritual drought when a close friend from Northeastern Wisconsin introduced me back to God as he played the Guitar and sang “Seek Ye First” in church. His beautiful music touched my soul and opened my heart with an unexpected revelation filling it with the spiritual nourishment that I had been seeking.  What a blessing he brought into my life which has never been the same!

As I trod through the prairie waiting to witness the purging and letting go of the old, I joined the volunteers who had come to help with this death-into-life event. As I took out my camera to capture the spiritual restoration of this sacred landscape, I realized how this event was mirroring my own renewal and spiritual growth. This is a beautiful, mosaic artwork designed by our creator being molded and transformed. This was the perfect way to end on Earth Week.

There is something spiritually therapeutic in reconnecting people to their roots of living on the land and being one in nature. This was a spiritual renewal of the land and of my soul by letting go of the old (old patterns that no longer served me) to allow the new growth to begin. As I glance across the prairie at the plants and animals in communion with one another, I am reminded of mass that I attended this past Weekend. Just as I was moved and restored by the sermon, prayers and rituals such as communion, so too is the prairie a gathering ~ a congregation of plants, animals, water, rocks, and soil participating in their own rituals.

The prairie is a mosaic painting of grasses, flowers (Wild Lupine), water, birds, mammals (badgers), insects (karner blue butterfly), fire and weather all woven together and interconnected. If one part is affected, then all of it is affected much like that of a spider web. Larvae of the Karner blue butterfly prefer the Wild Lupine so if it disappears, then this delicate, blue butterfly disappears.

I am reminded that everything happens for a reason and a season. I especially love the thought of the dramatic transformation that this prairie will soon partake much like the caterpillar shedding its old skin to become a beautiful butterfly. It is an appropriate metaphor for the spiritual and personal growth in my life ~ renewal of my soul. After the burning and letting go of the old, it is a chance for new life to take hold and flourish in the nutrient rich soils of the soul.

We all went to our assigned posts with rakes, flappers and water tanks ready for the back burn into the windI realized I was already violating one of the safety rules, as my field pants and shirt were synthetic instead of cotton or wool. If I got too close to the raging fire, my clothes would melt searing my flesh like a tender steak on a grill. I would have to be especially careful today, a chance I was willing to take, as I needed to experience this spiritual purging and letting go of the old to make room for the new.

As we light the fire, smoke rises to the to the deep blue sky up to the fire Gods and I say a prayer for all of us working the burn. It begins its raging assault on the dead prairie grasses and flowers while a Sandhill Crane flies overhead circling the marsh on the Northwest corner. There must be a nest nearby I thought, but she keeps her distance and I watch as the fire becomes very intense, raging and cackling with an intensity that flames my soul. I can feel the sweltering heat penetrating my clothes and soul. I step back feeling a little dizzy from the heat and smoke that surrounded me much like the uncomfortableness of the passing minutes in a sauna as you breathe in hot, thick air.   Soon the sound of the roaring fire drowns out the beautiful choir of spring peepers, bluebirds, cardinals and robins.

Prairie fires are both fascinating and frightening. As I watch the flames swirl with the changing wind direction raging across the prairie and I am reminded that this control burn can quickly go out of control in a split second much like a mild disagreement escalates into a raging battle! I put away the camera and began working the “Boundaries” making sure the fire does not cross the control line in this relationship; such a beautiful, sweet metaphor of personal growth evolving my soul in this journey of life.

The sounds of fire are most memorable much like the “Seek Ye First” song I heard 4 weeks ago only magnified 10 times! As the fire creates its own wind roaring through the dense fuel of grasses, pops, crackles and echoes like gunshots from the surrounding wooded landscape bordering the area. Magnificent plumes of smoke rise to the fire Gods changing the color of the sun and creating surreal designs on the spring sky including a deep red sunset.

I am also reminded that to truly understand and know the prairie, I must spend quality time being present and deeply connecting to nature (just like spending quality time with connecting to my higher power and prayer). It happens when I choose to bring my journal, and binoculars following the song of the common yellow throat warbler as it sings witchety-withchety-witchety. The Common Yellow Throat warbler (Geothlypis trichas) lives in a variety of habitats from wetlands to prairies to pine forests. They generally build their nests close to the ground hidden in dense, low vegetation. They are also found in dry upland pine forests, palmetto thickets, drainage ditches, hedgerows, orchards, fields, burned-over oak forests, shrub-covered hillsides, river edges, and disturbed sites.

For hours, I watch it eat, sing, flitter, and build its nest. I watch its movements and its courtship behavior. I notice which vegetation it prefers as I write my natural history notes and make a feeble attempt to sketch it. Now, I can say I truly know and understand this magnificent warbler migrating through our prairies.

I observe the karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) flitting around the Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis). This tiny butterfly, about one inch across, is endangered. Karner blue is most widespread in Wisconsin, and can be found in portions of Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio. It may also be present in Illinois.

The male has dark blue or silver-blue wings with a black border. The female’s wings are a dimmer blue fading to a brownish or grayish color towards the edges of its wings. In addition, the female’s wings are fringed with a row of dark spots with orange crescents. Their undersides are light gray to a grayish brown with rows of brown spots.

Spending time in nature is truly a spiritual connection as we experience the sacredness of the moment. Too often, we feel disconnected and isolated from life, God, the Earth and each other as we travel at the speed of Life! Today I felt deeply connected to the Earth, God, and friends. In a few minutes we would be toasting and celebrating the renewal of life of the prairie and of our own souls.

When I have a real relationship with God my higher power, life gets exciting. He stirs up a passion inside me to love people—and I no longer have to struggle to do the things He calls me to do. It just happens naturally as all the pieces fit and my career, relationships, and health all flow with ease and harmony. So too, when I have a real relationship with the prairie, my passion for the land and animals shine through and I really connect with the soul of this ecosystem. The life of a Prairie is renewed with Fire. The burning renews life into my soul as both soul and prairie are restored to its magnificence.

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