Red Buffalo, Black Butterflies.

“Honk on around,” says Gene on the radio. It dangles from my neck so I can hear what’s happening on the other side of the hill where Myron will or will not get the truck stuck in the mud. I listen, and try to figure out just how this complicated mixture of choreography and improvisation—a controlled burn—is moving across the early-spring prairie. Once, dry lightning might have ignited these senescent stalks and seedheads; once, Plains peoples might have set the flames. But today our work is planned, plotted, and recorded in the long-term data set gathered at the Konza Prairie Long-Term Ecological Research Station. We’re in the moment, but we imagine our efforts casting a shadow into next year, and the year after that…

To continue reading this essay (with pictures!) as it first appeared on, please click here.