In my favorite tract of Ozark woodlands rests my dream burn unit: 800 acres of rich grass-forb mix and a black oak-white oak-post oak canopy so widely spaced the crowns don't touch. I've surveyed birds, salamanders, and plants in this dreamy place for almost 8 years now. I love every hollow and ridgetop, all the creekbeds and glades, and the Red Arrow Fault Line that cuts through the prairie grass like a spiky dinosaur spine.
I didn't get the call on Monday that my dream burn unit was being burned on Tuesday because I was 30 miles south of there flagging out firelines in what could be awesome enough woods, but aren't because the firelines never get installed. So I spent late Monday and Tuesday hiking around through super dense leaf litter in structurally nice dry mesic chert woodlands with no understory. No winter botany games, no fading asters to photograph, just leaf litter and trees. Well, go back there today and you'll see pink and black striped flagging tape (I have a whole box of it because no one ever uses it and it reminds me of Maria Sharapova's US Open dress from two years ago). The flagging tape surrounds a 200 acre hill, traveling down one creekbed, through the flatwoods on top, then down a pretty darned steep slope into another creekbed. I just want to burn that hill. Actually, I'd like to burn the whole acreage, but that hill would be a good start.
Driving back home yesterday afternoon, I saw the enormous plume of smoke from my dream burn unit on fire through the dashboard of my car:
I pulled over to watch the smoke rise from the rest of the area, sipping on cold coffee while envisioning my old boss hiking through the bottoms to send fire uphill. I watched from 20 miles away, all that grass and leaf litter (3 years' worth) go up in smoke. It was beautiful. This is not just burning off a hillside, yesterday's fire was burning off the best tract of woods in the state, making them ready for my post-burn vegetation and bird surveys. Field season will be a delight!
Knowing the burn conditions were optimum across the Ozarks yesterday, I high-tailed it home, skipped the gym, and set fire to my yard. The lines are always so beautifully prepared in my yard--down to mineral soil with plenty of space between our fuels and that huge woodpile next door that has been curing for three years. Winds picked up as the sun started to go down, sending embers from chinquapin oak leaves into the air where, thankfully, they extinguished rather than landing in, say, the neighbor's yard.
To see if your favorite woods are burning, check the NOAA Spot Weather Forecast here. Yesterday's Spot Forecast lists the fuel type for the woodlands as "Grass/Leaf Litter." Not too many Ozark woodlands can be characterized that way...
11/17/11: Check out today's Spot Weather Forecast to see the beautiful torch work of one of my favorite people in the Ozarks! Beautiful dry chert woodlands and glades burned today in the Western Ozarks!