Saturday, November 24, 2012

Leaves and What's Left Behind

A big pile of leaves always brings back memories: the colorful dance of dry crisp leaves before us as we raked them off the yard and into a pile at the edge of the woods, the joy of jumping in said pile, of fluffing the pile back up and jumping in again. Sometimes we'd burn a small pile of leaves where the fire couldn't spread, and watch the flames in all their complex beauty, curling upward or exploring inward depths of red and orange. We'd throw acorns into the flames and wait for them to explode. Smoke was not pollution back then, but a fragrance that would scent the fall air of our small town, as much a part of life as Halloween and homecoming parades.

Later, in my 20s, needing organic matter to loosen some clay soil for a tomato patch, I found it in the deep, black, improbably rich "leaf mold" at the bottom of a leaf pile that the owner had topped with new leaves year after year.

All this was a celebration of endings and beginnings in the endless cycling of life, one few children will experience today.

Now, this joyous process is left to machines, beginning with landscape crews wielding leaf blowers to insure the ignominious leaves never disgrace their owner's property again. The leaves await their fate on cold asphalt until The Claw arrives to lift them into another machine, which will carry them into extended exile at a remote location outside of town, where still larger machines line them up in windrows and hasten their march back to a form society will find more presentable.

I doubt that leaf burning will return any time soon. Just yesterday, sirens screamed after a fire spread from cigarette to leaves to house on Moore Street. If machines are available and gas is affordable, people will use them. The machines do a good job, it must be said. The giant Claw is an uncanny merging of brute strength and delicacy as it heaves great gobs of thick branches into a waiting dump truck, or pauses to pluck a discarded geranium blossom from the curb.

Maybe I should look upon leaves and feel discontent and fear, and wish my childhood memories not be so persistent. But in time the machines as currently powered will prove the ultimate naivety. Subsidized ease will bring future hardship. And we'll wonder why we spurned and outsourced the wealth, beauty, exercise and meaning nature offers every fall.

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