Fire on the Farm

We've had three fires on the farm in the last month. Two were small, insignificant, but one spread swiftly, sweeping through two fields, taking some banana trees along, melting the pump wiring, burning through the nalla and ravine till they eventually reached the cottages on the north-west corner. Vineet got a call from Nagamma while he was in town and rushed back. Together the two of them put out the fire before there was any serious damage. The two subsequent fires were easily put out.

Parched Earth

The scorched trails continue

The banana field
We're done, as far as fires go, for the summer now. We can look forward to new grasses growing and watch the land grow green with the rains of April.

Controlled burning is an old tradition among the farmers here. They begin burning the hillside in late February and walk alongside the fires beating them and maneuvering their passage with bunches of green shrubbery. But sometimes, a small breeze changes direction and the fires break lose.

Clearly there is some ancient wisdom in these fires. Small prescribed fires reduce excess fuel build up, especially with the rampant growth of indicator species such as lantana which have woody stems.  The landscape is thus cleared for new ploughing. The ash from the fire is nutrient rich, in turn enriching the soil. The goats and naati cattle that graze here love the tender new grasses and overall it's  "God's in His heaven and all's right with the world". But there are many arguments against controlled burning, the most obvious being the huge release of CO2. Also, the ash raises soil Ph, burning of dead leaves obstructs soil formation, small animals, snakes and insects are chased out of their burrows and so on. But we're talking about tiny fires over a few small shareholdings of a few acres each, not a billion hectares of cornfields, so I'm guessing that Hanumanthappa and my other neighbours figure the benefits outweigh the damage. I could quite easily be wrong, of course.

But in this season of fires we've simultaneously had several firsts. The Tabebuia, Jacaranda and Pink Cassia have all bloomed. Little tentative first bloomings, but still.

First blossoms
In town the blistering days of March are somewhat alleviated by the paint-job the trees of Bangalore chuck at us. The Tabebuia is the worst culprit (especially the guy on the St.Mark's Road side of Bishop Cotton Girl's School), a scandal of canary yellow. And the Pink Cassia alongside old King George in Cubbon Park. (I took the Theatre Lab kids there yesterday, just to say hello. "We're done observing people, now you want us to observe trees!" they moaned, the little ingrates.) And the ultimately delicate pink blossoms of the Rainflower, watermelon-fragrant. The joy of it! What sap within transforms itself so, what chemistry occurs? Taking a cue from these trees, I decreed that I would have avenues of flowering trees on the farm. So we planted, lustily and with gay abandon, yellow, orange, pink and mauve. And now, five years of slow growing later, we are witness to glimpses of the future.

The baby roses that come to life near the banana field
Pink Cassia
White Bougainvillea
The Bad Boy of Flowering Trees: Tabebuia