Knox County — Burning Leaves
(This story appeared in this space the first year I did the blog, “On Being a Southender.” It appears on a special CD featuring the best stories of 2009. See the special ad on the regular blog space: www.southendstories.blogspot.com on the bottom of the right hand column.)
I miss the smell of burning leaves. I understand that air pollution and safety are the reason for disallowing the burning of leaves in the fall; but I still miss the smell of burning leaves.
When the leaves fell in the South End, we kids made up all manner of games having to do with leaves. In the Fall in New England the air takes on a distinct change. The mornings are colder and noses become red as kids walk to school kicking leaves in front of them as they go.
As kids, we looked forward to Halloween; apple cider; and picking up the bright red and orange maple leaves to save and show at school. At least one art project at school in the fall included the use of fall leaves. It was a bright and colorful time, which we savored, before the cold winds of winter came and walking to school wasn’t so much fun.
Because we lived in an area with many big deciduous trees, there was an abundance of leaves to rake or otherwise take care of. Some people resorted to setting up wire baskets next to the street and burning and disposing of their leaves in that way. Of course this activity would always draw any kids within smelling distance. We were always willing to assist in this chore whether we were wanted or not. It’s a wonder we didn’t set our clothes on fire, but we didn’t. I’m not sure, however, if leaf burning is still allowed in Rockland, but it isn’t allowed here in Georgia. My nose memory is still very much alive though.
Before the leaves were disposed of in one way or another, we used to rake them all up just for the joy of jumping in them and spreading them out all over again. Picture a bunch of laughing, giggling kids as they enjoy being out-of-doors in the crisp air. Our cheeks became as red as the red leaves we jumped into.
There was a sad time, however, concerning the burning of whole trees, not just leaves. The year was 1947 and I was a mere six years old when we learned that the forest in Bar Harbor was on fire. The burning of our leaves locally could never compare to this disaster, which had far-reaching consequences in that area for years to come. Many of the summer estates of wealthy summer residents burned to the ground along with the forest. Therefore, the economy of that area, which depended on these summer visitors, was greatly affected.
My father took us on a ride down that way so we could see for ourselves what it looked like. As we came around a turn on Cadillac Mountain, our mouths fell open in awe. No words could describe the devastation before us. It was like we had entered an alien world on another planet. I think we were all so overwhelmed we couldn’t speak. We couldn’t imagine how long, how many years it would take, for the forest to grow back and be the lush green it once was. For years and years we watched as the forest slowly came back. Today the area is whole again and there is no lack of summer tourists; although the big estates were never rebuilt.
Although I still miss the smell of burning leaves, I’ll sacrifice that particular pleasure as long as we don’t have any more terrible fires like that one down Bar Harbor way. I can certainly sympathize with the folks out west as they battle their fires.
As for the fall leaves of New England, let me say this. I’ve seen the aspens in Colorado. They make jewelry out of the leaves. I’ve also seen the foliage in the Great Smoky Mountains. Neither place compares to the red, gold, maroon, and yellow jeweled leaves that adorn our trees in the Fall. Enjoy them. They’ll be gone before you know it.
I know there are still plenty of trees left in the South End. In fact, some places have grown up even more since I’ve been gone from the neighborhood. If you get the chance to be around children this fall, do them a favor. Take them out in the yard to play in the leaves and let them chose a few colorful ones to keep for their own. They will thank you later on, believe me.
Thanks for listening.
Note: Look for a special story on the 1947 fire in Bar Harbor next month. October 17 is the 65th anniversary of that terrible fire. Also see videos and a story on Solon, Maine on the regular blog space which was posted recently.