Lizzie’s doeful eyes were as big as dinner plates. Despite the dimming light of dusk, I could still see her fear.
My wife pulled her woolen shawl closer around her head, trying to brace herself against the dropping evening temperatures. “I’m frightened, Liam. You’ve worked so hard building our home and barn. What if the fire reaches us here?”
“Calm yourself, Lizzie. The Indians know what they’re doin’. I’ve seen ‘em set these fires every spring since comin’ West. It’s gonna be alright. You’ll see.”
The acrid scent of smoke was beginning to burn my eyes and nostrils. I reached around my bride’s tiny waist and drew her closer. Her shoulders trembled against me. It had been less than a year since she had joined me here in the Dakota Territories. I caught myself remembering that my little Lizzie was born a world away in Newport, Rhode Island—a world so different than the wilds of Indian Territory.
Lizzie was raised behind Irish lace curtains and amidst salty sea breezes. The only daughter of Reverend Thomas O’Sullivan, she was the apple of her father’s eye—until I whisked her away last summer. The Reverend was mighty unhappy to give up his little girl, but, like me, he just couldn’t say “no” to them big brown eyes when she told him she wanted to marry me.
“Liam, can’t you do something? The flames seem so high.”
I smiled. “It really is fine.” I watched the orange glow that skirted across the distant hills. “Chief Black Feather is my friend. He told me his people done burned off the grasslands for centuries. They set fires to drive prey towards their hunters. They also figured out that the buffalo and antelope will graze the new green grasses after a fire. So it brings more buffalo into these hills for them to hunt.
Just then a distant rumble erupted from the blackness. Buffalo.
I sensed Lizzie tensing as her head turned toward the ruckus. The sound grew louder and louder. We heard the beginnings of earth being turned along with snorting. Panic followed in the cold April air. Stampede.
Somehow, miraculously, they missed our homestead. We watched the dark cloud of beasts skirt the closest hill to our house, much like locusts devouring the prairie in their wake. Braves on horseback whooped and hollered driving the beasts further into the great expanse of grassland. Then came the rush of the crackling fire licking their hocks from behind.
“Liam, it’s frightening, yet somehow wondrous. I can feel God’s presence here . . . tonight . . . like never before.”
As the evening wore down, so did the fires. The night air chilled us, but Lizzie would not go back to the house. She drank of the smoky air and seemed to delight in the scents of the scorched prairie.
And then, God brought snow in light fluffy flakes. It glided here and there much like ash from the great fire.
“Lizzie, look at the snow. What a miracle. Snow and fire all in one night.”
My bride smiled and so did I.
He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth his ice as fragments; Who can stand before His cold? He sends forth His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow. (Ps. 147:16-18)
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