DAVIS: It Was My Job to Burn the Leaves
The changing of the seasons are times in which I relish being alive, particularly when summer changes to fall. Gone are the days of sweltering heat, the discomfort of sweat and the buzzing of mosquitos. For those of us who live outside the city it also means a goodbye to the slithering of snakes that are often found out in the fields and patrolling the creek banks in search of field mice and frogs.
The 'sense memory' that always takes me back to my childhood autumns is the smell of burning leaves. As a young boy, it was my job every fall to rake the crispy brown oak, sycamore and elm leaves that covered our yard into the dirt ditch that ran along the side of our house next to the street. I remember the scrapping sound of the rake tines as they gouged across grass as I worked. I remember the crinkle sound of dried leaves pressing against each other and seeing the occasional poof of black whenever i hit one of the many ground spores hidden beneath the carpet of fall color.
It took most of the day to clear the vast expanse of a yard that now, some forty years later, seems more like a postage stamp than the sprawling prairie my childhood imagination had seen.
At nightfall, the best part of the job was before me. As the air began to chill and a soft layer of evening dew covered the pile before me, the anticipation of what was to come filled me. I was given the sole responsibility of burning the leaves, a task that made all the hours of raking seem like a gift.
With a box of wooden kitchen matches in hand, a quick flick of the white encrusted stick across the side of the box created a flash that broke the increasingly black of early evening that was growing around me. I tossed the match into the brown pile of leaves and within short notice a small flame grew into a full blown fire in the ditch.
I sat on the slope before the fire and reveled in the beauty of the colors, the dancing of the flame and the simple pleasure of finishing a task. The smell of the leaves as they burned moved over me as smoke from the fire shifted directions toward me. I closed my eyes and smiled as the aroma entered my nostrils and filled my lungs. What may seem to be an odd infatuation as a child became a comfort memory as an adult.
It is a memory of simplicity. It is a memory of a time long since gone and cherished. But most of all it is an reminder that no matter what may be happening in the world, in my country, my state and my city, none of that mattered because this simple act was just that. A moment to just forget the world.