Leave leaves leaving trees ... or rake and burn them?

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My father had many sayings he imparted to his three sons. Some were original, I think, while others he had heard himself or were a part of the general culture of mankind.

There were the familiar sayings like “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” if we were having trouble deciding whether to spend money or to save it. “Keep it between the ditches” was a favorite of his as we slid behind the wheel learning to drive.

Others were specific to the son in question. On more than one occasion he reminded me that, “You’d lose your head if it weren’t glued on.” Actually he used another part of the human anatomy when sharing that wisdom with me, but you get the picture; it still applies today.

But there’s one saying my oldest brother says he heard often that I can’t remember and whose origin is, at least according to the masses, lost somewhere never to be found. The saying in question is, obviously, relevant this time of the year: “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”

The logic behind that, I think, is that we use those two words — “if” and “but” — too often to be helpful in meeting life head-on. Instead of concentrating on what was or could be we’d be better off to deal with reality. And it’s the reality of this time of year coupled with that little rhyme that has led me to this point: “If leaves were dollar bills, I’d have lots of money.”

Our little corner of heaven is in the Chatham County countryside. I like it. We’re close enough to what shopping needs to be done but are free from traffic congestion. At night we see a little of the glow from Siler City or Sanford but can still see the sky and the North Star.

We hear the sounds of nature’s night ... the crickets, bullfrogs in the summer, chattering squirrels and even the unwelcome howl of the coyotes across the woods.

And then there are the trees — shady and cool in the summer and stark and impressive in the winter, when the leaves come off. I know you can’t have it both ways; you either cut all the trees (ugh!) or you keep the trees and get the leaves. So far this year we’re way behind on raking and burning.

My Better Half loves to rake and burn the leaves that abandon their tree homes this time of year. Something about clearing the yard and smelling the smoke. Folks who live in town miss out on much of that, at least the burning part. Rake ’em to the curb and wait for the vacuum truck and hope there’s not much wind until.

As a little guy my mama tortured me and engaged in child abuse by having me help rake her leaves. During the process, I tried to leave enough time, space and energy to jump into the big piles we’d gathered, at least enough to scatter them all again until she threatened to hide the peanut butter if I didn’t stop. At that point I did.

As her brood aged and scattered and produced their own flock of little folks, arriving at the home place to help rake her leaves became part of the Thanksgiving proceedings. The key was to arrive late enough to miss out on most of the work but not too late to miss dinner.

My brothers had that perfected — which meant I did most of the work.

In time the Air Quality Police told us we should cease and desist from destroying the atmosphere on Mars as we burned our leaves. After Better Half and I took up residence here, for the longest time we’d rake leaves into a ditch or scatter them into the pasture or dump them in the natural (“ungrassed”) part of our yard to help in the creation of more dirt. And some we even left in piles for the puppy patrol to sleep in.

But in time the lure of the smoke was too strong so out came the rakes and the matches and once again there’s a haze over our place ... except that, as noted, we’re way behind. The good news of that is, I guess, that there’s still plenty of smoke still to be smelled and enjoyed.

But as I celebrate more birthdays and realize all over again that I’m not going to outlast Mother Nature, and that she can dump more leaves than I can get up, I’m becoming more inclined to leave the leaves and to take another of my dad’s proverbs to heart: “Don’t wish your time away. Pace yourself.”

Thanks, Dad.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.

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