I spent time last weekend at my favorite “reading and thinking” spot: the prairie at the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago. The parking area overlooks the gentle rolls of open space, and is perfect for enjoying a book and a chai latte. I was expecting the monochromatic browns and gold of late winter/early spring, but the arboretum staff had done controlled burning recently and much of the ground was black. Still lovely—in an interesting way.
Before leaving, I took a walk on one of the paths that skirts the edge of the prairie. It was a study in contrasts. The unburned paths, either wood-chipped or grass, wove across the fields in stark relief to the blackened ground. The bare trees spoke of winter while exuberant birdsong spoke of spring. At closer view, green shoots of grasses and plants were pushing up through the burned areas, while the cool spring air was overlaid with a lingering smokiness.
I read that occasional fire is beneficial to prairies and woodlands in terms of controlling overgrowth, assisting in seed germination, and in general making it a stronger, healthier environment. Hmmm…(metaphor alert!)…occasional fire makes us stronger, too, doesn’t it? Our life experiences provide us with plenty of chances for transformation; to rise from the ashes and begin anew. And this translates to writing fiction as we light the fire under our characters with a torch-like pen.
Ignore the smoldering embers and fan the flames. Your readers will thank you for it!