Burning Wet Leaves

I’m old enough to know better but I did it anyway.  I spent most of the last Saturday in March trying to burn a pile of wet leaves.  They looked dry on top, but sometimes I forget that what we see is not always what we get.  Beneath the surface is what’s most important.

My long day of spreading layers of leaves to keep the fire going reminded me of an old television ad.  It ran on Macon’s WMAZ Channel 13 during my 1950s childhood.  I couldn’t find the advertisement using a Google search, so I may not be telling this exactly right.  I’m not giving my usual guarantee of at least 50 percent accuracy.

Two middle aged local men were featured touting a brand of bacon, which I’m guessing was packaged in Central Georgia.  According to one of the fellows this exceptional bacon wouldn’t burn.  The other man, however, kept forgetting that unique characteristic.  The first gentleman feigned frustration towards his rather hapless friend.  “He’ll never learn!” he said, while shaking his head.  Just afterward, or maybe it was just before, he’d add with excitement, “Southern Maid No-burn Bacon – It will not burn.”

We have a big yard with a lot of trees.  Jane normally mows over the leaves with mulching blades, but her mower was in Russ Bowden’s Infirmary this past leaf season.  It needed some major work, so I came up with a brilliant idea of blowing the leaves into piles.  To make loading easier, I made a leaf sled.  There’s no patent pending.  You are welcome to follow the detailed instructions below and build your own.

I took a 12 by 16 blue polyethylene tarpaulin and ran a small cord through the grommets all the way around.  We raked the leaves onto the tarp, draped the cord over the bumper hitch on my truck, then drug it 100 yards to our brush pile.  I flipped it over to unload, then returned to our yard and repeated that process until the truck ran low on gas.

If I can pause here for a moment on a sidebar to the story, I’d like to say I’m not totally convinced tarpaulin is spelled correctly.  I’ve always pronounced it tar-po-le-on, four syllables with an accent on po.  I’m relying on Spell Check but hoping it’s wrong.  Tarpoleon may not be a real word, but in my opinion it should be.  Say it aloud a few times and I think you’ll agree it sounds better.

Those leaves covered an area bigger than downtown Findley and were several feet deep.  They had been soaked by winter rains which set a record on Coley Crossing.  The top three inches of that pile burned like wildfire.  It went, “faster than a Seville second,” as Marian Bowen would say.  But the bottom three feet or so wouldn’t cooperate.

I should have looked beneath the surface before I struck the match, but the dry top and delightful weather was too tempting.  It was a beautiful spring day with a perfect breeze, enough wind to scatter the smoke without floating tiny cinders to parts unknown.

It was around nine a.m. when I called for my burn permit.  I expected to be through before lunch, or at least well before sundown as required by regulation.  The flames died out before the deadline, but the leaves were still smoldering Sunday morning.

Our former next-door neighbor, the late Mrs. Lorena Morgan, worked in her yard almost daily.  She piled leaves and limbs into a wheelbarrow and burned them every few days.  The smoke finally got to her though.  She walked to the ambulance that took her to the hospital where she soon died at 102.

While burning those leaves, I was reminded of Miss Lorena.  She was a sweet, soft-spoken lady who loved taking care of her flowers and grounds.  If heaven offers a neighborhood channel, I hope she was watching me.  I know what she’d be thinking but would be too kind to state.  “He’ll never learn.”

I say that because I believe this is the second time I’ve made the same mistake.  The slow burning of wet leaves seemed oddly familiar.  As the great Yogi Berra would have said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Hopefully I won’t soon forget a lesson I sometimes ignore.  The top layer of anything seldom tells the whole story.  But if we look beneath the surface, we’ll find what’s most important.

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7 Responses to Burning Wet Leaves

  1. Michael Chason says:

    Love it. You painted great word pictures. I could see all this happening. Well done.

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10


  2. Jennifer Nutt Pollard says:

    You always make me chuckle, but I Laughed out loud on this one! Thank you!!


  3. Ellen Hunsucker says:

    Very entertaining and a good life lesson!


  4. Wanda Hawke says:

    Joyfully read. Rivers run deep but you can only see the top.


  5. Marlene (Peavy) Hiland says:

    Hopefully I won’t soon forget a lesson I sometimes ignore. The top layer of anything seldom tells the whole story. But if we look beneath the surface, we’ll find what’s most important.
    AMEN to this!!


  6. George says:

    Neil, this is another of your really good stories. I can relate to burning wet leaves. Your “lesson” of looking at more than the surface is right on target. Thanks again for your weekly stories.


  7. Melaniej says:

    Great job Neil. I always look forward to your weekly column.


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