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RxReturn

A celebration of communal stewardship through prescribed fire

​A selection of this work was shown in Nature's Kaleidoscope: Patterns of Fragility and Resilience, a group exhibition at The Overture Center for the Arts in downtown Madison, Wisconsin from December 5th, 2023 - March 3rd, 2024.

2023

The Aldo Leopold Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin

A prescribed (or, Rx) burn is only “in prescription” when certain conditions are met. Often, these stipulations relate to environmental factors or capacity requirements for crew size and tool availability. However, this project considers what else we might require of ourselves and each other, as land managers, stewards, and humans, when we interact with–and seek to manage–those communities of human and more-than-human life in which we work and reside, and ultimately, upon which we depend. RxReturn celebrates deep connection with the plants that grow from the ashes of a prescribed burn unit, and honors the life that sweeps across a landscape managed with care, humility, and love.

 

This project consists of drawings made in the restored and remnant ecosystems of the Leopold-Pines Conservation Area. Within RxReturn are three series of works focusing on three units of land recently exposed to fire, each referencing a distinct step in the prescribed burning process: RxWalk, RxMap, RxBotanical.

The Leopold-Pines Conservation Area is situated on the Wisconsin River on traditional Ho-Chunk, Sac and Fox, and Kickapoo homeland. This roughly 4,000-acre area is actively and collaboratively managed by the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Pines family, often in practical and conceptual ways that draw knowledge from these indigenous stewards of the land, especially with reference to the return of fire to this landscape.

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RxWalk

Each RxWalk drawing was created by walking in a straight line across the entirety of a recently burned unit. Each charred plant I passed on these walks offered its piece of the unit’s collective portrait–the abundant charred woody propagules of siberian elm left branching lines (see Alanna’s Prairie RxWalk) while downed heavy fuels scraped the paper with deep slashes (see Kammerer RxWalk). These drawings are influenced by the fuels present in each unit, topography, moisture regime, and the weather at the time of burning, in addition to countless other variables. However, each still retains a seemingly stochastic resemblance to a restored grassland, reminding us of the goals of this management and our vital and active role in these severely threatened ecosystems.

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RxMap

This RxMap traces both the path of the fire’s progression through this burn unit and my own steps in each RxWalk. I used each of these maps as a reference on the day of each burn, checking the progress of the fire and using reference points to communicate with the other burn crew members. 

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RxBotanical

In the months following the burning of each of these units, I maintained a daily practice of visiting each of these areas and offering my attention to the plant communities that grew out of this active and communal management. Each botanical illustration was drawn from life with charcoal ink made using burnt plant material collected after these prescribed fires.

Shown below is a selection of these works.

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