The Nation's Pulse

Years Ago

It was probably unhealthful, the smoke from burning leaves.

By 12.2.10

KENSINGTON, Maryland -- Before many of you were born, or moved east, the Eastern Seaboard would disappear at this time of year.

It was probably unhealthful. It was smoke from burning leaves. The motorized leaf-catcher was unknown. Raking leaves was a family affair, enjoyed by some, despised by many, but a necessity. If, after all, a summer of green canopies was to be enjoyed, there was a price.

From the air, the eastern limits of the United States began somewhere along the borders of the Midwestern States. Eastward was a light haze.

The memory returned the other day when the only leaf-catcher operable in Kensington, just north of the District (I often explain my whereabouts by explaining I live on the edge of disaster), gave out periodically. It happened twice on my street, the mystified crew explaining that the "mechanic" was out that day and there was no way to make the machine function. Besides, the crew explained, the "town" was considering farming out the leaf work to a professional outfit and they’d have nothing to do.

As a matter of fact, the town fathers had given a contract to Unity Disposal, which will begin its removal work after the first of the year. Meanwhile, the current city employees will wrestle with the balky machine which twice on my street broke down, leaving mountains of leaves untouched, as they remained at the end of November. The temptation to light a match is being resisted successfully thus far.

In organized towns, residents are alerted to when their streets are to be swept, when to get their cars out of the way. Not so here. The roar of the single engine that powers the solo machine is all the notice given that the sweep is underway -- with no guarantee that it will continue before another breakdown.

One nearly longs for those days when the eastern seaboard disappeared in a smoky haze. The sign was unmistakable: it was Fall.



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About the Author

Reid Collins is a former CBS and CNN news correspondent.