Looking out our windows, the solid green tree tops form a peaceful forest. Those leaves will soon start to yellow, and in one day of high winds, will be stripped naked. As if the theatre curtain dropped, revealing the mechanical underworking of the stage before the next scene is set, white and cold.
Fall is a beautiful time with colorful leaves, and some lingering warm sunny days. It is also punctuated with cold snaps, rain, and wind to remind us that this won’t last long. The familiar scent in the air must be the leaves as they settle on the ground, form wet mats in the gutters, get macerated by cars, and decay. The one thing you don’t smell anymore are leaves burning.
As a kid, autumn meant leaf raking. Hours of repetitive motion, moving leaves across the yard and down the driveway to a big pile. A pile that my brother and I could jump in, burying each other, and jump out of. I know that we burned leaves back then, but for some reason, I can’t remember where or how we did it, only that it made an aromatic, smoky fire that went on all day. Some neighbors tended large flat smoldering piles; others used vented metal trashcans.
All that smoke was clearly too much, and leaf burning became prohibited. Now leaves had to be bagged, so the work strategy shifted. Make a series of small piles, fill bags by the piles and struggle to carry them to the curb. Wet leaves fished out of the garden were the worst, making the bags extremely heavy. A weekend of raking and bagging produced so many bags, it was hard to park the car.
When our kids were small, we lived in a house on a heavily wooded lot. The volume of leaves generated was so high, we invested in a chipper shredder. It seemed like a great idea, but that infernal machine was loud, terrifying to use, and left us covered in leaf dust. In addition, it had a small capacity bag catching the leaf bits, so we were always having to start and stop – this chore seemed to go on forever. To wean ourselves off the machine, an interim step was to grind up as many leaves as possible with a mulching lawn mower. Finally we caved and hired a service. Like magicians, they’d arrive while we were at work, and make all of the leaves disappear.
Living in a condo, I don’t miss leaf raking one little bit. I am not tempted to stop by a neighbor’s yard to make a pile or bag and carry the leaves. We get to savor the good part, the colors, the smell, and the crunch under our feet.