Chapter 4 – Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Fire Pit

DSCF0651.JPGWhen I was little, it was perfectly ok and expected to rake leaves and burn them in your backyard.  The smoky aroma of burning leaves was just part of Fall.  A wonderful part of Fall.  Sometime during my teen years, it was banned in most metropolitan areas.  Too much pollution.  Too many people with allergies and asthma.  Lots of reasons for eliminating a treasured ritual.  Enter in …the mulcher.  Goodbye to a treasured aromatic ritual.  Sigh.

At Woodsmoke, leaf burning is ok.  Everyone does it! Raking leaves is expected!  Most people have really great fire pits to keep this practice safe.  I do not.  It’s been a long time since I’ve burned leaves.  Hey…but I’m game.  How hard can this be?  Without a fire pit?  Hmmmm?

First of all, it must be understood that I have a wooded lot.  Loads of mature oak trees. Mature – healthy oak trees.  Mature, healthy oak trees produce lots of leaves. And acorns.  Second thing to remember, I haven’t raked a leaf in the last 20 years since mom sold her house and moved into condo-land.  So, I forgot the first cardinal rule about leaf-raking….Wait till all the leaves have fallen.

In my enthusiasm, I started raking the day after closing.  I raked, and raked, and raked.  Piles and piles of leaves that just begged demolishing by energetic enthusiastic kids jumping and running. Piles of leaves of this magnitude require disposal.  The best disposal method, in my mind, would be burning.  But where?  Lack of fire pit would make burning them on the street the most logical spot.  But I don’t know the association rules well enough to try that.  Neighbors might not like a conflagration on the street.  I might be able to get away with it because I’m pretty much isolated.  Everyone else – the sane neighbors – have already winterized and are home for the holidays. But there are a few still around.  What to do? 

Now, my neighbor immediately behind me has the most awesome fire pit I have ever seen.  It’s about four feet in diameter.  It has a grate under the area where the actual fire occurs that safely allows the ash to drop below ground level.  There’s a huge lid designed to smother any left-over smoldering ashes and/or embers. Finally, it is surrounded by an enormous brick patio.  And…those neighbors are still here…I could ask. 

I asked.  They said ok. They were leaving that evening anyway.  I went to work.  In order to utilize their fire pit, I had to rake my piles of leaves to their back yard.  Not an easy feat.  Then I had to get the leaves into the fire pit, and get the fire started.  Getting the leaves into the fire pit was the easy part.  Getting the fire started was another matter…It’s been a long time since I was a camp counselor.  After a whole lot of false starts, I remembered my girl scout/camp counselor training about kindling, tinder  and fuel, found a half-way decent butane lighter in the shed, and got the leaves started. 

After achieving actual fire, I kept raking.  No sense in stopping now.  The back yard was really looking great!  Very few leaves were left on the ground.  There was still light.  I was a leaf-raking, leaf-burning machine.  I didn’t think I would need a health club visit for about a week after that work out.  I finished the back yard!  I only had the front yard to do.  It was getting dark, and somehow raking leaves from the front yard to the end of the back yard where the fire pit was lost its attraction.  I responsibly stirred the ashes into the pit below the grate, raked the hotter embers to the center of the fire pit, and smothered the whole thing with the generously-sized lid.  Smokey the Bear would have been proud! Celebratory wine was needed.

Tomorrow’s goal?  The front yard.  Slept like a baby.  Didn’t hear the rain.  Didn’t hear the wind.  Woke up, made coffee, looked outside.   You would not have thought any leaf-raking had taken place.  The entire backyard was freshly blanketed with wet leaves and acorns.  Maybe I should use the mulcher.  Nah!






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