Fields of fire
But with spring comes a clearing out of the old, making place for the new. Spring then is a time for fire festivals in this region. Across the whole region, last year’s grass is burned away in a series of what I assume are controlled fires, making way for the spring new growth.
It’s something of a surprise to me that this age-old tradition of burning thousands of acres of grassland every year has survived into this day and age – it doesn’t jive well with an alleged concern for air pollution, for example, as visibility and air quality are reduced to Beijing-like levels for a week or more.
What is even more surprising is that it’s quite a spectator sport.
And it appeared it was quite a tourist draw…
Quite apart from anything else, there were of course no public safety precautions whatsoever. I think the idea was that if you’re silly enough to come up into the mountains while they’re being set alight, then safety is quite your own responsibility.
There was something quite awesome about the fire. As the wall of flame advanced, the savage crackling noise was overwhelming. And even standing in the road, you had to be very aware of which directions the fires were moving either side of the road. With the grass burning right up to the edge of the road, the heat was intense, even passing hurriedly by in the car.
Driving back along the Aso Milk Road the following day, there were odd tufts of tan grass here and there, but other than them, all was black…
…with the winding road offering the only contrast to the charred landscape.
And so with the first stage of the spring transformation complete, we’ll be back up there as the weather warms up, the air becomes breathable again, and the black gives way to summer green.