As you leave the city of Cusco in almost any direction during this month of August you will see people burning the dry vegetation in their fields. Throughout our region people practice this ancient custom so that when September arrives with raindrops and a fresh climate our fields will be ready.
From the roadside, while leaving our Imperial City you will see majestic landscapes filled with domestic animals and homes of adobe with straw roofs. To the side of the homes you will notice fields or small gardens. It is beautiful and typical of Cusco. It is also very attractive, although at any time from many of the fields smoke will be rising this month.
In the Sacred Valley of the Incas, outside the city and towns, in the countryside you will find large fields that grow out onions, potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, and corn.
During the dry season, when trees drop their leaves and the pastures turn golden, most farmers begin to burn them. They renew their fields in this way with the ash and by the smoke call the rain. The earth turns more fertile and becomes prepared for the sowing of seeds.
On my way through Chinchero, once, I had the experience of seeing how this was done. After quinoa was harvested the farmers burned the dry stalks in the fields. From a distance you could see the flames consuming the stalks and the dry brush found there in that open place. The flames could not go further because the field was surrounded by stones and dirt. While I was watching a man in his late thirties came up with a thick stick in his hand with which he distributed the ashes over the field. After a brief silence he said, “be careful. The fire can move quickly because of the winds and the dry vegetation.”
His words seemed a little extreme since I was at some remove from the fire. But he was right.
His hat covered his face in shadow. Suddenly he laughed while watching the flames and said, “I was in the jungle working for some six month in Kiteni, in La Convención. There they also use flame to reduce the thick vegetation and to expand the agricultural frontier. There it is very strong. Here in the highlands the fire is for calling the winds during the dry season. Still, it is always important to control the intensity of the fire.”
At this time of year, visitors who go to the rural areas to visit our archeological sites scattered throughout our region can watch this spectacle without worry. It is part of our heritage for the month of August.