Monday, 28 March 2011
Image Above And Below: Burning Moorland
Location: View from the Isle Of Erraid, Mull, Scotland
The Fire, Sunday 27th March
By six o’clock the afternoon had lost its depth of colour and evening seemed more of a certainty. Over the bay thin ribbons of smoke trailed from patches of burning moor, rising to become indistinct from the low mass of grey cloud. The burning season is nearly at an end and there have been few days when the air has been still enough to ensure these fires remain a tool rather than a threat. The object of the burn is probably heather, as plants age they become woody and largely unpalatable to sheep, burning effectively prunes out the old growth leaving space for new, more nutritious shoots to regenerate. Maybe this is one of our oldest forms of land management, give a man a stick and he can beat out a piece of land from the jungle, add a flame to the end of it and the job becomes a little easier. It would be easy to congratulate or equally vilify ourselves on having discovered another use for fire if it wasn’t for the fact that the world burnt long before we ever got to strike a match. Some plant species like the American monterey pine are so keyed into fire being a natural part of the environment, their reproduction almost depends on it, with cones opening to release seed in the heat of a forest fire. Mankind does have a habit of overusing its magic tricks.
By seven o’clock an amber glow had just become visible as evening descended, at eight we worried a little. Before nine the rim of fire shone like a crack in the earth and I phoned a neighbour on the mainland. She asked about the baby, my youngest son, three weeks old and offered her congratulations. I asked about the fire and she said her husband was away up the hill to retrieve his tractor and help to get the blaze under control along with other volunteers.
By now headlights were moving around the bay as vehicles navigated the pitted road from Fionnphort. It became obvious that tying up the phone wasn’t the cleverest of ideas and I quickly thanked her and said goodbye. I walked the street back to the house feeling a little like Nero as the moor burnt.
By ten the glow had gone from the bay and with it the fire.