Monday, November 2, 2009

I miss the smell of fall.

I came home tonight during a gloriously sunny fall afternoon. After the heavy rains of Thursday through Saturday, there are almost no leaves left on the trees. The air is crisp as a fresh picked apple (Memo: Whole Foods for a bag of apples for sauce.) and the dried leaves stuck to my shoes have kept Mija occupied chasing them around the house until they disintegrate. This week's task is to dust the floors.

On the gentle breeze, I caught a whiff, just a few molecules of a scent, the scent of burning leaves.

Oh how I miss that.

At this time of the year, in the 1980's, I would rake all the leaves from the front around to the back and pile them on top of the area where the peonies were. Then the leaves and the dried peony stalks would be torched one afternoon when the air was still and any smoke went up and not sideways. Not only did this remove the leaves from the yard, but peonies benefit from the ash and to have those dried stalks burned. It cleanses the soil around them.

I know those with asthma and other breathing disorders hated this time of year, loathed it. That was the main reason given for banning the practice of burning leaves. I think another part was the one homeowner on the block who piled them up, lit them and then went inside on a Sunday with a stiff 30 mph wind from the south to sit in his easy chair with his Budweiser and watch the Bears. It was only when the fire trucks showed up that he suspected there might, perhaps, be a problem.

Controlled burns are the sustenance for prairie soils in any managed acreage. These usually occur in the spring and there is huge public notice along with protests that people with breathing problems can't go outside. I'm one of those people with allergies. On purpose standing downwind of any fire is, at best, stupid of me and, at worst, a recipe for coughing fits and breathing problems for the next two days. So I'm not altogether unsympathetic to that problem.

But, I miss the smell. I miss the returning of the leaves to the earth. I miss how the peonies looked the next year, glorious masses of pink blooms on plants 3 feet high. The bed is overrun with garbage plants now and I'm not even sure there are peonies growing there anymore. They were so diseased the last time I actually saw them, big brown splotches on the leaves and malformed flower heads. I know it's because the ground isn't sterilized from fire. Remedies were to use chemicals and that's worse than doing nothing.

So, for an instant tonight, I was transported back in time, to a place where a fast burning supervised leaf fire wasn't a criminal offense, where recycling meant returning the leaves to the soil, not just mulching them and hoping they decompose. I miss sticking marshmallows on the end of a stick and making smoky flavored s'mores.

There just isn't anything that compares to the smell and sight of a leaf fire. Nothing.

Beverage: Assam tea


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