Saturday, November 11, 2006


Crystalline sky the color of "Dutchman's breeches" as my mother would say. Just enough breeze to tease the remaining gold and bronze leaves from the tree out front. It's a glorious fall morning in Maryland. And so I spent some time raking semi-dry leaves, lifting rakefulls into a black plastic bag, and thinking about this corner season.

Winter is dark and crackly cold at best, leaden gray at worst. Summer brings the heat and humidity that make breathing difficult and turn car interiors into people-cooking ovens. But at the corners we find the cycle of life, the birth/rebirth of spring and the languorous death of autumn.

Come March and April the trees spring to life, and birds hold multi-lingual morning convocations. October sets the landscape ablaze until November's snap colds and brisk winds tear the landscape clean. The air now has the musty scent of dead leaves. Kira the cat finds it irresistible; leaves we've tracked in become skittering prey for her games.

How can this ancient cycle be incomplete? My nose knows. Missing from the mix is the one smell that means fall is almost over. Before air pollution regulation, the reward for raking leaves into the street was the sight and smell of an oak/maple funeral pyre. There was an art to it passed through the generations, father to son, son to daughter.

You needed good dry material so that flames would leap from the top of your leaf cone. A few damp leaves were OK, but too many would produce a slow, smoky, and unsatisfying burn. A little breeze to keep the fire going, but not so much that half-burned leaves would fly off the pile and start mini-burns in the neighborhood. When you got it right, you felt connected to nature and the unending cycle.

I agree with the rule about no open burning. But on days like this, my nostalgia takes over and I yearn for one more perfect fall afternoon spiced with the scent of leaves returning to the dust we all share.


Kathleen said...

I remember those days of leaf-burning too-and my dismay when pollution controls doomed them to memory (or illegal burns). But last night while walking the dog, I smelled something remeniscent, on a not-so-cool fall evening: someone's fireplace was going. Maybe they threw a few leaves on for nostalgia.

Peg Silloway said...

Great idea - add dry leaves to the fireplace. Now if only I had one of those....