Owen Conservation Park has a haunted look this time of year. The dried husks -- the ghosts, if you will -- of last summer's profusion of grasses and prairie plants ripple across the hillside in flamelike abstract patterns. Soon they'll all go up in smoke in the annual spring prairie burn.
Owen Park is a treasure, an oasis of serenity hidden away in its own corner of a major metropolitan area, wedged between the the high-traffic arteries of University Avenue to the north and Mineral Point Road to the south -- 93 acres of woods and restored prairie and oak savanna on what once was farmland. There are 3.4 miles of trails, but they're never crowded. The park is used by the occasional walker, birdwatcher or photographer, but that's about it. Not much else to do here, and that's the way it should be.
Soon the annual prairie life cycle will begin anew, with the spring burn. The earth is briefly blackened, but optimistic green shoots immediately start to poke up through the soil. In a couple of weeks it will be green everywhere. In a couple of months, it will be hard to believe all that bounty started from this. More photos here.