Those autumn leaves

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I was supposed to be housecleaning. But here I was outdoors burning a big brush pile of dead tree limbs.

It was a glorious autumn day, sunny with a cool breeze. This was the perfect day to burn that unsightly dump in my back yard. During a violent storm, a large limb had split from a still-standing towering maple. The limb had fallen and lodged into a nearby tree, where it hung suspended for many weeks before it plummeted to the ground. And there it lay, dead but too heavy to move by hand. Over time I had heaped other dead limbs onto the mounting pile.

Since the ground was wet from an all-day rain on Thursday, I decided that Friday morning was the right time for my bonfire. I picked up other small limbs from the yard and piled them on top of the big unmovable limb.

Slick, the hound, watched the proceedings. He was dubbed that (certainly not by me) when he first touched his paws here on Crowley's Ridge. Slick watched warily as I dragged the garden hose into the back yard, along with a rake and my lawn chair. (If there's anything Slick despises, it's getting doused with a water hose.)

After several attempts, I got the fire started. The burning twigs and wet leaves sent dense smoke fogging like a genie from a bottle into the towering trees surrounding my house. The wild birds began shrieking in alarm, "fire, fire."

Determined to stay close by, Slick found a safe place to doze behind a large tree, thus protecting him from the smoke and the ashes that rained down like specks of snow. Once he rose to sneeze and wipe his face from side to side in the grass. Then he sprawled on his side in his soft unmowed bed, not 10 feet from the burning brush fire.

I sat in the lawn chair to keep guard and control over my private bonfire. I was quite aware what a runaway fire can do in these hills, especially after dry autumn leaves blanket the ground.

Now if you are expecting me to say that something untoward happened next, you'd be wrong. Nothing happened, with the exception of a couple of blisters on my fingers.

This is just about a beautiful relaxing day when I pushed my housework aside and stayed outdoors to enjoy nature. As I sat in the lawn chair drinking a cup of coffee, I was reminded of those days long ago when my family went on weekend camping trips. We would sit around our campfire each night and roast marshmallows. The kids always loved that. When smoke would sail our way and burn our eyes, we would chant, "Smoke follows beauty."

October is my favorite month of the whole year. I love the coolness and beauty and change that take place. After a sweltering summer, October is a welcome relief. And those leaves of red and gold are pretty, too.

But a word of caution. When burning those autumn leaves, think safety. I'm sure our volunteer firefighters would appreciate that.

National Fire Prevention Week is over, but we need to practice safety inside and outside the home year round. Smoke alarms cut the chances of dying in a house fire by 40 to 50 percent.

Unfortunately, about one quarter of U.S. households lack working smoke alarms.

If you haven't as yet checked yours, why not do it before election day.