The leaves at home in Ontario used to turn yellow and then scarlet, and one morning a small boy would wake to see them fluttering down into the backyard. They were big, ragged maple leaves, the best kind for a boy's fire. When they lay thick upon the ground it was a delicious feeling to kick your feet through them as you walked and heard them rustle. If you pushed them with a long motion of the leg they sounded like the swish of a wave on a sandy beach. But the burning was the best of all.
Old William, our man-of-all-work, would rake them up with a wooden rake that he had made himself, and I would help him with a toy rake and a toy wheelbarrow, demanding that we burn right away. But William would squint up at the trees and he would not burn until all the leaves were down. It was unlucky to burn twice, he said. "Leaves fallin', dead men callin'," William said. I never knew what it meant, but it had a fine sound of doom about it and I would repeat it over and over again -- leaves falling, dead men calling. And after a week of raking, after the last leaf had torn itself loose from the naked trees, we would light our fire behind the stable, and now the sweet smoke of maple leaves would go up in the back yards all over town. All eastern Canada would be burning leaves then, an autumn custom, a universal rite.
Alas, there are no maple leaves where I live now on the western coast. There are oak leaves only -- very superior in quality, of much better substance and fertilizing value when rotted down, but they lack the fragrance of the maple leaves