Thursday, October 11, 2007

Autumn Leaves

It's a gray drizzly day here. Clammy. Not really warm but not cool either and definitely not comfortable. A difficult day to dress for, I started out with a sweater and a light jacket.

Looking at the trees which have yet to change color. What leaves are changing are simply drying up and going brown, not the wild riot of color usually associated with a New England fall.

I thought about raking leaves. Back in ancient times when I was a kid we would rake leaves and then burn them. It really does seem like it all happened in some long gone age.

I have noticed these days that they sell leaf bags, that when full, are suppose to resemble giant pumpkins. Somehow they lack the quality of a huge pile of leaves that just begged to be jumped into. Or to push your brother into. I remember raking piles of leaves under trees so that one could climb the tree and jump down from a branch into the waiting cushion. Like so many things it worked much better in theory than in practice, however when you are a kid, hope springs eternal and you would just keep piling leaves up to add to the cushion. It drove the old man crazy, because the pile would have to be moved so that he could burn them.

Burning leaves has been illegal for quite a while now and I know that considering the spectacular job we've done screwing up the environment that it is just as well that the practice has fallen out of favor. Goodness knows that there are also safety concerns. We had enough dimwitted flatlander neighbors who didn't have enough sense to not burn leaves on a windy day.

One neighbor, who was originally from Long Island and before moving to Vermont had always had a service come in and do his yardwork managed to set his back lot on fire and bring himself to the attention of the local volunteer fire department when, on a windy day, the sere field, burning out of control was threatening his house.

Here in the city it just seems like a truly bad idea, packed cheek by jowl as we are, though I can imagine in neighborhoods where people actually have yards that there were people who 30 years ago were still burning the leaves in their yard.

It was a smell that meant autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving. The shortening days, the fires roaring briefly in yards and the scent of the burning leaves. Fall twilights as the amethyst sky faded to dark, bright orange bonfires, crackling in the crisp air, with the columns of smoke and tiny embers flying in the air like fairy lights.

We are conscientiously trying to make the world a safer place. We are, it can be argued, eliminating a small quantity of air pollution by banning these fires. I feel pretty confident we are safeguarding the feckless from accidentally burning down their own homes. Still it's sad. We have also managed to loose something that was almost magical. Some deep primal drive our ancestors felt at the change of the year to burn bonfires to try and keep back the night a little longer. A silent plea to the sun not to forget us and to return and warm the earth after it's long cold winter rest.

*I was telling Monkey about this post when I remembered the time that may brothers and I thought it was a brilliant idea to rake a really big pile of leaves up near the barn and then swing daredevil style out of the hayloft by a rope out onto the leaves. The older brother went first and of course yelled up, "Come on, I'll rake the leaves back up. It's great!" Butt numbing was a better description. It was a great idea right up until my mother looked out the window, that's when things just got ugly.