In January, I had the opportunity to participate in another cultural burning event: the Cache Creek Conservancy‘s second annual Indigenous Fire Workshop, held in their Tending and Gathering Garden. Drawn below was the gathering prior to walking down to the garden. The event was attended by an inspiring variety of community members, students and researchers, and members of a number of nearby tribes. The Conservancy is within the homeland of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, with whom they collaboratively manage the Tending and Gathering Garden and other riparian projects along Cache Creek.
The burning was focused on four plants: deergrass, western redbud, tule, and cattail. These are important plants for basketry and other cultural necessities, and fire ensures that they grow in the manner best suited for these uses. I mapped the locations of the plants burned, in the context of the entire Conservancy.
The first fires were started in the deergrass:
Patches of flames in deergrass:
This was so impressively a full community event! People of all ages were helping tend the fires, wandering between the burning patches and poking at fire with sticks.
Redbuds were cut to near their bases, the branches piled in cones above the stumps. This ensured that the bases and brush all burned well.
Tule and cattails were set alight, and their thick stands burned fiercely, sending flames high into the air. The long strips of leaves turned to ash and floating away on the smoke were quite dramatic. I was also struck by the individual plumes of smoke rising from each still-smoldering cattail head after the flames had passed. The twisting strips of char on the burned cattail stalks show the pattern of air movement as the flames rose around them.
A redbud that was burned nearly a year ago showed the straight branches and deep red color that are desirable for basketry. I also investigated a fungus happily growing on the burned stumps.
In a perfect demonstration of survival strategies during fire, one of the members of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Tribal Fire Department found a juvenile alligator lizard that had been curled up in the base of a bunch of deergrass that had just been burned. The moisture content at the base kept that spot cool enough that the lizard was unharmed by the fire.