To paraphrase John Greenleaf Whittier, what calls back the past, like the burning at dusk of raked autumn leaves?

But, in the contemporary case of the burning of leaves, Whittier’s amended query would of course transcend the rhetorical and arrive somewhere in the realm of the ridiculous. Everyone knows that these days, a family will quickly be declared felonious if it burns its raked fallen leaves at streetside, near to or during darkness, before supper or after.

Nowadays we stuff leaves into oversized plastic bags for burial at the municipal landfill (once known, and by some still known, as “the town dump”). Or we tarp the leaves to remote backyard leaf mausoleums, locally called “mulch piles,” unlikely to be revisited until the same time next year, if then. Or, most often, with loud, gas-fueled, fume-spewing leaf blowers strapped to our backs in curiously unchallenged gestures of defiance of global warming, we crowd the leaves into road-edge heaps so that even louder and more gaseous vacuum trucks can transport them to wherever it is that leaves go for interment in mass unmarked graves.

But quiet leaf cremation, out in the street on gravel or asphalt near and after dark? No longer an option. It’s the smoke. Global warming, you know.

No, we do not burn our leaves, not if we know what’s good for us. Yet those of us born and raised just after dinosaurs disappeared clearly recall that, back then, the burning of leaves at dusk and beyond was not only good for us, but also very good for us, very good for family unity and tradition. And not noisy, either. Nor gaseous. A bygone day, or so it seems.

Yet of what help are today’s global-warming warnings if no one can hear them above the din of ear-splitting and, more to the point, fume-spewing leaf blowers? As it happens, that question is the driving force behind a growing anti-leaf blower movement in many American cities and towns from Massachusetts to California. Towns in several states either limit or ban the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, or appear on the verge of doing so. What can take the place of the gas-powered leaf blower if and where banned?

That’s an easy one: the arm-powered human raker, the leaf blower’s historical predecessor. A good thing, too, for more than one reason. Raking is an exercise that tests the upper-trunk, shoulder and lower-leg muscles. This is a genuine physical activity, one in which, not incidentally, operator earmuffs are not needed.

And what better place to end this “rake and break” sequence than on the edge of a neighborhood street just before and continuing after dark on a chilly evening, then standing next to a long, narrow row of quietly burning leaves while leaning on a rake and enjoying the fire’s face-warming heat as the sweet smell of the smoke infuses the hand-knit wool sweaters of all family members meditatively present?

— Special to the Telegram

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.