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Saturday, November 30, 2013



It is a rare day indeed when I have no opinions, but instead of an opinion on Cranky Opinion Saturday, I submit this reminiscence.
In the good old days, back when air pollution wasn’t a concern, when global warming was not yet conceived of, and playing with fire was a childhood rite of passage, the Fall meant burning leaves.

We did not have leaf blowers which would have been fun.  We had rakes, and for manpower, dad had sons. My brothers and I were responsible for the leaf raking.  It was a lot of work, but we didn’t mind because we also got to burn them.

We did not recycle the leaves.  We did not bag them (the biggest pain in the ass known to man) we dragged them to the street and set them on fire.

Ahh how I loved the sweet smell of burning, smoldering leaves in the Fall.  The leaf burning ritual made the hard work of raking and sweeping a chore we almost enjoyed.

There were some drawbacks to the leaf burning.  One fall weekend after a rainstorm, the leaves did not want to burn.  I suppose we could have waited a few days for them to dry out, but my oldest brother, Jim, was too resourceful for that. 

A little lawnmower gas might ignite those leaves. If a little gas might ignite those wet leaves, a lot of gas for sure would get the job done.  To be absolutely positive the leaves would burn, Jim added the whole two gallon tank into, around, and on top of a huge pile of wet leaves.

My brother was no dope; he knew putting a match to gasoline might be a little dangerous.  Jim positioned me ten yards away as he moved just several paces back from the leaves.  With one flick he drove a match against the match pack abrasive strip and sent that tiny flaming torch toward the gasoline soaked pile of leaves.

The flaming match never reached the leaves.  My brother, a future physicist, failed to take gas fumes into account.  The fumes from two gallons of gas soaked into wet leaves apparently reached a tiny bit less than several paces.  The resulting explosion was instant.  It knocked Jim onto his back and slightly singed his eyebrows.

Damn that was cool! 

Stupid, but cool!

Several years later our town put a halt to the Fall leaf burning ritual, and most towns in the state followed.  The leaf burning ban wasn’t from an air pollution issue, or global warming concerns; no, it was a safety issue.  Almost everyone waited for the weekend to burn the leaves, and a large bonfire in front of every quarter acre lot on the street created a visibility problem.  It took several car accidents from vehicles traveling blindly through smoke at about three miles an hour and a small child almost being run over to convince our town’s leaders that the sweet smell of burning leaves and the convenience of no bagging was not worth the residents safety.

The lawmakers were right of course, and the new ritual of leaf bagging and recycling is a good thing.  Still I miss those days of innocence when we did not worry about polluting our lungs, heating our planet or blowing ourselves up. 

I miss the old leaf disposal ritual.

It doesn’t quite seem like Fall without the smell of burning leaves.               


  1. Being the lazy, yard-work-hating guy that I am, let me suggest a new Fall ritual: I call it "composting in place". Whatdayathink? :)


  2. i'm grateful ours just blow around and become nature's compost.

  3. I always thought that it was unfair that my boys had to rake leaves so I used to give them a helping hand.
    My husband used to get angry at me for spoiling them and I used to come up with the answers of future generation being smart and using devices like leaf blowers.
    I used to work for Sears and could have gotten us real good deals with leaf blowers but my husband waited until almost every one in our neighbourhood had one. ( It is Desi (INDIAN AND PAKISTANI) mentality of waiting before buying a new device.

    We used to burn leaves as well, but I used to supervise like a Hawk.LOL

  4. I don't remember burning the leaves but I do remember raking and bagging. I'm glad we didn't have a leaf blower.

  5. Ah, the sweet smell. And your brother flying through the air...priceless.
    Our township collects the leaves and takes them to a composting facility.
    On our street everyone just blows them into the woods. The road super wishes everyone just blew them into the woods, because every single person who lives in this township has the woods to do the job. And a leaf blower that get the damn things to the street.

  6. Every now and then, someone still sets fire to their leaves and the smell is wonderful. In the city from where I just moved, we would rake the leaves over to the side of the road when they scheduled collection by vacuum.

  7. I had forgotten about that WONDERFUL smell. I would have loved to see your brother flying!!

  8. I agree that burning leaves make a wonderful smell. When we moved to Oregon thirty years ago it was still legal to burn yard debris but they put an end to it for the reasons you mentioned. For everything gained, something is lost.

  9. I too remember this wonderful Fall ritual, and what fun we had playing with fire! Those truly were the good ol' days.

  10. Don't remember burning leaves; we moved so often I can't remember one house from the other (Dad was in mining and we went where the work was), but I do remember the wonderful smell of wood fires burning in the winter. I miss that smell, but the replacement for me is when the cane fields are burnt after harvest. Thanks for sharing your story; I always love these posts from you.

  11. Here in Missouri, the leaves are a-smolderin'. I drove past three big blazes today. The smell was wonderful.

    When I lived in town, my old-man neighbor torched a gas-soaked pile right next to our driveway. I wish he'd let me move my car first. It was undamaged, but the windows of my old house rattled like the New Madrid Fault had fulfilled its overdue legacy.

  12. i grew up in a place that had decided decades prior that leaf burning was a danger. no worries though, we collected every leaf in the neighborhood to make a monstrous pile to jump into. So we built a tree fort with a plank to jump off of.

    the most epic year found us with a pile that nearly reached the plank. good times, thanks for the memories

  13. I've never experienced a leaf burning, but I definitely miss bonfires. Now days we can't have them, what with living in Australia where there's an almost year round fire ban. I'm just waiting for the day that they outlaw barbeques.

  14. I know this was done often back in the good ol' days, and I remember the smell - but, I only remember seeing leaves burned when I lived in Michigan. My grandmother had a barrel-like metal contraption in her back yard and if my memory is correct, that's where the leaves went.

    Nice story of the bond over leaf burning that you had with your father and brothers. I'm glad your brother survived it! What else has he done?!

  15. I had no idea this is what people used to do. Great story - a world away from today. Reminds me a bit of how in the heat of summer here, before the 14-year drought and water conservation concerns, everyone used to hose down their porches and driveways in the afternoon, and it made everything so much cooler and cleaner. When we went to my husbands village in Greece for summer last year they all still do it, and it was lovely!