By Rick Houser –
The days growing noticeably shorter and the evening and morning temperatures growing cooler are a signal to us that the seasons “are-a-changing”. The trees are losing their green color and the corn and soy beans are turning from dark green to a paler shade of green and inevitably arriving at their final shade of brown, also telling us of another coming season.
Resist as we may, autumn is arriving and she isn’t shy about it. What we all get to witness in the fall is truly a site of beautiful colors as old Mother Nature once again puts on a show for us to watch and enjoy. I guess we might as well enjoy it since we can’t do a single thing to stop it from arriving. Fall changes not only the temperature, but it signals the time of harvest.
Gardens are harvested and we all take the last picking of beans and sugar corn, along with the last tomato to the table and as we enjoy the taste one last time, we do so a little slower and we savor the taste a fresh garden vegetable brings to our palate. As the gardens disappear, the crops in the fields slowly begin to be harvested and as fall advances forward the crops increase in number that are ready to be harvested. The farmers begin harvesting in short sleeves but it isn’t long before long sleeve flannel shirts take their place and eventually coveralls and coats appear on the scene.
I always had a conflict with the harvest. As much as I wanted to bring the crops out of the field and collect some money in exchange, I also resented the freshness of spring and the true deep heat of summer lost and being replaced by air banking off the arctic circle and our trees being stripped of their foliage one leaf at a time until they are left only with bare unattractive limbs for us to look at for almost six months. Maybe I’m a pessimist at heart, but I just see so little to look forward to with winter.
The last thin that comes with the fall is raking and burning all those leaves. I didn’t realize this neat activity existed because we only had pine trees around our home, so only pine needles would fall and little to no maintenance was needed in dealing with them. But my Grandma House lived in the village of Moscow and had several huge Maple trees on her place and she would ask me to rake and burn the leaves for her. It was kind of fun and Grandma not only paid me but would see to it that I got a home cooked meal fit for a king (or grandson in this case.)
Moscow is an old village that was full of large trees in every yard and the town consisted of a large population of senior citizens. I mention the seniors because the burning of leaves was beginning to fall under the scrutiny of the EPA and being considered a dangerous thing to do. To folks who had done this traditionally all their lives, not burning their leaves was never considered an option. So when the last leaves had fallen from Grandma’s trees, it was scheduled for me to arrive early on a Saturday morning and begin to rake leaves. There was preparation as to how the leaves were stacked as they were raked, and the place for the burning was inspected and made certain it would be as safe a burning spot as could be created. This we will refer to as ground zero.
As the dew dried off, we would place a large pile of leaves and light the fire. The fire would begin slowly at first and then the flames would rise to heights that even we were impressed with. The flame was a bright orange mixed with the large plume of smoke that accompanies a leaf burning. As the initial pile began to be burned up, I would begin adding more leaves to the fire, never allowing ground zeros fire to go out. I would think to myself that with all the smoke and flames the entire town would notice that I was burning Eunice’s’ leaves. The thing was that when I took a moment and looked around the entire town was doing exactly the same thing for as far as I could see.
With three to four hundred fires all burning and smoking at the same time, I had the feeling that planes flying over would surely think the town was on fire. The thing was the town was in sync, carrying out one of the rites of fall. Being in the middle of this there was no way I couldn’t inhale one of the most identifiable fragrances and literally draw into my lungs the true aroma of autumn, a smell any nose can identify.
Like I said, Grandma had a lot of large trees, so even though I stopped for an abbreviated lunch, I couldn’t let the fire go out at ground zero. I would have to use a total days’ worth of sunlight and still might not get them all. I will confess that by the end of a day I was covered in a lot of sweat and ash and I smelled just as the neighborhood did, and that was like burning leaves. I must admit that I did enjoy burning leaves but I enjoyed burning just about everything!
I guess when fall did take us to its final stages, it was only right that the last chore wasn’t such a bad chore at all. When I do pass somewhere these days and get a whiff of a pile of leaves burning, it brings a little smile to my face as it reminds me of those days when we polluted the air and saw very little wrong with it. It wasn’t our fault the leaves all fell and needed removed. It was Mother Nature’s doing!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you would like he might be able to speak to your group. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.