Fireguard Yoga

By: Beverly Biggeman

You’ve heard of goat yoga and hot yoga, but what about fireguard yoga?

My farming partner and I have the answer when it comes to stress management. The most relaxing job around the farm is cultivating the fireguard. This practice of cultivating fireguards around rural homesteads has been encouraged for almost a century in our part of the country, southwestern Saskatchewan. Vegetation-free areas around the perimeter of the farmstead help control the spread of wildfires which are a real concern in the southern parts of the prairie provinces. In our humble opinion, cultivation of fireguards is one of the jobs on the farm that eliminates free radicals stored up after seeding and while waiting for rain. Meditative tractor exercises may even help lower blood pressure which have increased during farming activities.

Cultivating the fireguard is one of the most pleasing and rewarding jobs on the farm. Our fireguard is about 10-15 feet in width around the house and yard, but further afield it can stretch to 20 or 30 feet wide. We usually cultivate it two or three times in the growing season, and we always do it together. Bob drives the 1947 John Deere AR attached to a 7-foot Noble blade to cut off the most stubborn weeds, such as kochia and tansy mustard, while I use the 1952 8N with an 8-foot-wide cultivator to uproot the less troublesome weeds such as pigweed and stinkweed.

The AR never gives trouble; it starts up with one push of the starter button after not having been operated all winter and putts-putts along with nary a problem all summer. The Ford 8N may need boosting after a winter inside but not always. These two pieces of equipment are historic and dependable. The AR has been used on this century family farm since it was purchased in the 60’s and the 8N, with the three-point hitch cultivator, allows for maneuvering in tight areas. Though a more recent acquisition, the 8N is a compact tractor for doing smaller jobs.

Travelling along in first gear with the smell of upturned soil filling our nostrils is a panacea for what ails us after the busy spring season. “Doing the fireguard” is a time for reflection. We think about what we did right and what we’d like to do differently the next time we get into the field, and our reward is a mere backward glance over our shoulder to see a furrow turned neatly, or a dandelion uprooted unceremoniously. Cultivating the fireguard allows us time for thinking about the next project on the farm, as there is always a next project on the farm. Care and attention need to be paid to the operation of the machine and to obstacles along the way, but overall this is an opportunity to be alone with our thoughts and plan for the days to come. Farming chakra, so to speak.

The practice of constructing fireguards has long been encouraged in areas prone to the spread of prairie wildfires. Disturbed bare soil fireguards are common in southwest Saskatchewan and effective, if not for stopping the spread of wildfires, for minimizing water use during a fire. Also called firebreaks, they usually define the perimeter of a farmstead and are anywhere from 10 – 60 feet wide depending on amount and type of combustibles.

The late summer of 2017 in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan saw many fires break out because of dry conditions, lightning strikes, downed power poles, and human error. Damage from these fires may have been lessened by the existence of fireguards, or the creation of new fireguards in the process of managing outbreaks. Not only are fireguards useful, they are also esthetically pleasing. Regular weed management techniques are important in the field, and in the farmyard as well.

The “dog days of summer” are an ideal time for pursuing this type of activity. Early morning sojourns into the fireguard are perfect for enjoying the cooler parts of the day. Cultivating just after sunrise allows us to view our farmstead in the most flattering light. We’ve spied deer, foxes, porcupines, pheasants, and prairie chickens on our fireguard. In the areas where there are trees bordering the fireguard, we have watched robins, orioles, waxwings, finches, thrushes, and meadowlarks flitting about. Does this environment not sound idyllic and stress-free? Your next yoga session could well be on your tractor as you leisurely cultivate your fireguard.

Namaste.