Milo Yield: Laugh Tracks in the Dust 4-16-12
April 16, 2012
It’s that time of the year when the ranchers are burning the Flint Hills – well, sort of. This year there’s not nearly as much burning for two reasons: (1) many pastures were grazed closely during last summer’s drought and, consequently, there’s not enuf fuel for a really hot fire that will kill the invasive species, most notably eastern redcedar trees, hedge trees, locust trees and buck brush, and (2) the hills greened up so early this year that all the greenery hinders a hot fire.
Speaking of invasive trees, especially cedar and hedge, those two species are gradually encroaching throughout the Flint Hills and eastern Kansas in general. During my lifetime, it’s happened so gradually that it’s easy to miss unless you’re really paying attention.
For instance, when I was in my 20s, good, clean rangeland ran right up to the city limits of Topeka. Today, cedar and hedge are the predominant species for miles around Topeka.
Nearly every roadside cut or grade is now covered in cedar trees. Near Manhattan, the hills have changed from mostly oak to mostly mature cedar trees. Expensive houses are springing up throughout those wooded hillsides and the stage is set for a big fire to get started and the conflagration will burn a lot of homes down like happens in California nearly every year, or this spring near Denver. Last year, during the drought and searing heat was a prime time for the fire to happen, but, thankfully, it didn’t.
In southeast Kansas, where I still own the family farm – Damphewmore Acres East – the landscape is unrecognizable to that of my callow youth. Nearly every pasture, mine included, is sprinkled (some covered) with cedars, hedge, wild blackberries and multiflora rose.
I think there’s a lot of reasons for the unfavorably changing landscape. Probably, first and foremost, is the downward spiral of rural population and the aging of the remaining population. As family farmers left the land, many of their kinfolk retained ownership. This results in many absentee landlords.
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As elderly farmers retire on their land, it’s difficult and expensive to control invasive species – bulldozers, tree shearers and herbicides and their application are hard to pay for with the profits of pasture rental.
I’m not being overly critical of what’s happening to our pastures and rangelands because every farmer/rancher I know is a natural resource conservationist at heart. But, it takes more than heart and good intentions to control invasive species. It takes cash and that’s where reality meets the road. Many times the cash just “ain’t” there to do the job.
And, I salute the many folks who have managed to maintain their pasturelands in good condition. It took good management, vigilance, dedication, pride of ownership, and an investment in the future to do the job.
Now, speaking of that job of controlling invasive species, just last week, my son-in-law, ol’ Poe Laris, and my good high school buddy, Canby Handy, helped me do a controlled burn on my CRP grass at Damphewmore Acres East. They brought their 4-wheelers and I took my ATV to the farm.
The CRP is in the fifth year of its contract and the bluestem, indiangrass and switchgrass wuz head high in most places. Plus, cedar and multiflora rose plants had invaded the edges of the fields. There wuz plenty of fuel for an invasive species roast.
And, that’s what we did. It wuz all pretty uneventful except for one 10 minute stretch when we wondered if the three of us could actually “control” the controlled burn. But, we got out of it unscathed except for Canby getting all the hair on his forearms singed off when he got a little too close to the fire.
However, that little exposure to the fire caused a funny story to ensue.
The next day ol’ Canby called me and told me to expect a call from his lawyer. He said he wuz suing me for causing him to suffer from CBSS.
When I asked what CBSS wuz, he said he wuz suffering from Controlled Burn Stress Syndrome. Then he told me that in addition to having singed forearms, the stress from the experienced caused him to have an “animated nightmare.”
Canby said he had a dream that night and some bad folks were chasing him through an out-of-control fire and the only way he could escape wuz to roll to safety down a deep ditch.
This is the true part of the story: Canby actually yelled and rolled himself off his bed and hit his bad knee on the corner of a dresser in his bedroom. He said it took him several moments before he woke up and got himself reoriented to reality.
At any rate, I told him if he wouldn’t sue me for CBSS, I’d buy him a beer next time I saw him. He agreed, so we’re still friends.
Guess I’ll close with a few words of wisdom about fire from a couple of our Founding Fathers – Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Tom said, “If our house be on fire, without inquiring whether it was fired from within or without, we must try to extinguish it.” Ol’ Ben said, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”
Hope this column fired up your mind.
Have a good ‘un.