Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fall fires and burning leaves

For the first time since back in the spring, the roaring fire of the burn pile Monday felt pretty good on these old bones.  It was tough to take when the daytime temps back in late June and and in July were in the high 80s; you had to stand off a ways to even keep an eye on our endless piles of old locust trunks and oak stumps and laurel deadfalls that our wood seem to produce on a regular schedule. Those news pictures this summer of huge forest fires out West got us thinking about all the fuel lying about on our forest floors, and since then we've hauled about 32 wagon loads down to the burn pile by the creek, where there's a water supply if things get out of hand.

But these days are crisp and gorgeous during daylight hours -- high 40s as I write, and yesterday Martha took note of a 37-degree mark when she rode down into town.  The leaves have been changing for a while, starting to burn red and gold, and everyday there are more of them cluttering the gravel of our driveway. The ferns are going brown and the wind brings a reminder: if you go out, take a jacket.

Our correspondents in the field, Don and Barbara Stringfellow, send word that birds are on the move: "The Broadwing hawks and Monarch butterflies have started migrating,"" Don e-mailed a few days ago. "Barbara and I were up on the Parkway this morning and in about 10 minutes time we saw a couple of hundred hawks. One Kettle had about 50 in it. Should be quite a show for the next couple of weeks."

My old friend Bill Howell, who lives in France these days but who in the 1960s was my co-partner in a boyhood enterprise of building treehouses and forts in the woods and at least one raft that never quite floated and plumbing the mysteries of a '49 Plymouth, or maybe it was a Chrysler, is in town for a visit.  We've been roofing the new shop porch and cleaning out the garden and, just yesterday afternoon, stacking oak and locust firewood under shelter for the first of the season's fires in the soapstone woodstove.  It's not cold enough yet to keep one going, or even to start the first one, but I'm guessing it won't be long.  I've split boxes of kindling from the legions of pine and spruce cutoffs from one building project or other over the years, and we've shifted from taking old newspapers to the recycling point to keeping them around for starting the new fires that will take off the chill and keep the house warm as the days grow shorter.

 Last winter was a mild one and probably spoiled us for one of those Patrick County winters that longtime residents recall, when the snow flies early and the hawk is out every day, beating the air into gusts that rattle the metal roof and remind you that the thought of a roaring bonfire blast furnace in the burn pile in July seems like a pretty good idea after all.

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