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  • First you kill everything. For a whole season the weeds are sprayed. The spray kills everything (even insects). It feels like war. It’s like a minefield in a movie, a perfectly dead field and a sense of something buried in the ground that could go off.

    The native seeds are sown and you hope they can make their way. The prairie plants are slow to grow and the weed seeds are always there in the ground and come up quickly. But most of the weeds are annuals and the natives are perennials. Everything gets mowed down so the weeds can’t reseed.

    Finally, sometimes in spring and sometimes in fall, there is a burn. The conditions have to be right: dry and no wind. First the guys take the water wagon around and spray the perimeter. They lead that water wagon like it’s a horse or ox. Then they take a metal torch with a wick and light the dry grass. At first it looks like a jeweled chain; then it expands. The fire burns inward, hot and fierce. This time the earth is scorched black and from the upstairs window you can see the outline of the new prairie like a colored state on a grade school map or farm fields seen from an airplane. The next year, mostly natives come back. They gain ground and eventually the weeds give up.

    Then everything is the way it was before. Before farms and Europeans and reed canary grass and bull thistle and rye brome and absinthe wormwood and mallow.
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