a childhood saved

A Naturalist's Notebook

When I was 14-15 years old, I wrote a series of 23 essays as a weekly assignment for my high school English class. I called the series "A Naturalist's Notebook." Naturalist's Notebook Table of Contents

Harvest Moon: October 18, 1973

I worked hard after school and on weekends in autumn, raking leaves at home and for several neighbors who hired me for groundskeeping. My stepmother wouldn't let me wait til all the leaves were down, so I raked leaves from late September through the end of October. I also hired myself out to split logs for firewood.

To the Indians (The People) who lived in these eastern United States, the season of autumn was known as the "harvest moon." It was, and is, a time for gathering crops: apples, nuts, and other foods. It was the time for hunting and other autumn activities. For me, the harvest moon means raking, log splitting, and other chores. The weather is cool enough to split logs comfortably, but not cold enough to make the tools brittle. Many an axe has been broken because of cold winter use.

The raking is almost welcome in early autumn, after months of boring mowing, but after a while, I guarantee, the enthusiasm dies down a bit! I find I can set a pace for myself, and stick to it pretty well. Autumn is also a general clean-up time: window washing, screens taken down, re-arranging, dusting, and other minor chores. But, to me, the major part of the months of the harvest moon is centered around a rake, a steel wedge, and a ten-pond sledge.

Splitting wood is grueling work to some, but I enjoy it. It has such a down-to-earth sense to it, a brisk feeling that spreads an aura around each log. The wedge is driven in with a few sharp taps of the sledge or a maul, and then the splitting really begins. The log must be propped up so that a blow to the wedge will not knock the whole set-up down. I know from past experiences that this can be very irritating and it takes the fun out of the work.

Once the wedge is set, the sledge is drawn up and swung down. The hollow, booming noise that follows is rather hard to describe. At the last swing, the wedge slices through the remaining ropes of wood and hits the ground. Once, I split wood over a rock; the ringing noises that followed were like those of a blacksmith's shop. Split wood is carried away and piled up.

yellow box The real estate agent's brochure said we had 3 acres, but my father always said it was 1.6. I don't know which is correct, but it felt like a lot of land when I was mowing the lawn or raking leaves.

Raking is usually considered easy, but not if you have 1.6 acresyellow box with a whole lot of deciduous trees! The leaves are raked into large piles and then onto a large burlap tarp or ground cloth which is then gathered up at all four corners and sent off to the leaf pile—a sort of dumping place for all organic material. The place has an attraction for all kinds of creatures, from centipedes to five-foot blacksnakes.

I really do enjoy these jobs, however tiring they may be; perhaps it is because they are all done in one short season—the season of the Harvest Moon.

Next: "Hiking With Maps," October 24, 1973