Bobbie Wayne's Blog
For me, fall is the season of hireth: a Cornish word meaning homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was. I always loved raking leaves each autumn. It was fun because it was an activity my parents and I did together, but it was also an important way of marking the season. Our tiny yard in East Meadow, Long Island, was my wilderness. We planted a willow when house and yard were brand new. Within four years, the tree towered above our roof. “Are you the folks with the big willow?” people would ask. I climbed its branches to a perch where I would eat apples and read, swaying in the wind. Each October, I gloried in the showers of golden leaves and leaped into the piles I had just raked. When the tree was bare, my father would burn all the leaves in a big garbage can. The neighborhood kids would come toast marshmallows. I have an old home movie of one such bonfire at dusk; we kids, high on sugar, sticky-fingered, whirling deliriously in the gathering darkness, each holding a stick with a flaming marshmallow at the end.
When I turned thirteen, my family moved to the older town of Merrick. My willow blew over on the house after we left. Everyone said, “Shallow roots,” but I knew it fell over in sorrow. That house would never seem the same. Merrick’s trees were old and huge. Maples, oaks and pine trees towered over homes and lined the roads. Smith Street, especially, was famous for its towering trees whose branches met, arching over the road, forming a tunnel of green all summer and a tapestry of gold, crimson and yellow in the fall.
Our new yard was dotted with oaks which dropped acorns as well as brown leaves in autumn. Merrick, in the mid sixties, had few sidewalks. The yards stopped at the edge of the street. People raked their leaves to the edge of their yards to burn them. The whole town smelled wonderful; a fragrance I still associate with home, crisp air, everyone walking to high school football games, and the glorious anticipation of up-coming holidays.
My father’s job forced us to leave New York in 1962. Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel is entitled, You Can’t Go Home Again. I believe he was correct. While I tried to get back to New York as often as possible, things began changing there. The old, venerable trees of Smith Street were cut down, despite the passionate protests and fury of the residents. The street was widened slightly and new sidewalks were laid. Smith Street is hot in the summer and has lost its individuality.
In Massachusetts, where I now live, we bag our leaves and a truck comes and carts them off. Leaf-burning has been banned, as it adds to pollution. We have a fire-pit out back where, sometimes, we toast marshmallows. I toss a few leaves into the flames, just to remember the smell. I still like raking, which is fortunate, since we have a big yard with many large trees. I wonder if there is greater pollution from leaf-blowers, the extremely loud, smelly machines used to blow every leaf into a pile, ensuring a perfect green lawn, than there was from the smoke of leaves burning. I imagine the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants my willow and the trees of Smith Street used to absorb, sucking them with their stomata and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.
I am homesick for the smell of burning leaves, streets where speed didn’t trump old-growth trees, where people mowed their lawns and raked their leaves manually or paid the neighborhood kids to do it. I miss my childhood belief that good people would never let the planet be irrevocably harmed. Hireth…
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