You meet people in the South who like spring, summer or winter, but virtually everyone below the Mason Dixon Line loves fall.
I can speak to my affinity for the fall season, which in Ashdown, Arkansas, is at least three weeks. Four if you’re lucky.
Fall is that time of year when it goes from hot to not. It’s not really cold (it’s never really that cold in the South), and it’s not really warm.
Fall is just right.
Now I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit warm in September and October. You’re still going to sweat inside your plastic Batman mask while you are trick or treating on October 31, but it is definitely cooler than August.
In the fall in the 70s, it was quite comfortable when you drove around with your windows rolled up so that people in town would think your car had air conditioning.
Air conditioning was a luxury when I was growing up. If your dad worked nights, he and your mom had a window unit in their bedroom, but AC wasn’t found in every room and certainly not every home.
School buses didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows were all down on any bus trip. Whether you were going from the school to a football game, or from the school to the bus stop near your home, in the fall the windows were all down.
I can recall the breeze circling through the bus as the underpaid driver took us where we were going. The leaves of the hardwoods slowly turned from green to orange before eventually letting go and settling on the earth.
Some kids detested raking leaves, but not me. Raking and burning leaves was just another arrow in my quiver.
Fall was the time of year when I could still mow someone’s yard for cash, but also get paid for raking leaves.
My buddies, Scotty and Andy, made a full time fall business of leaf raking. They claimed leaves were a faster and more profitable way to make a buck. I was never too sure of that. But then again, I worked solo, so they may have been right.
I can tell you that raking pine needles was not the way to go. I tried to shy away from folks in town who had a lot of pine trees in their yard. But since they knew I raked, and they knew my parents, it was almost impossible to get away from needle raking.
Pine needles are hard to handle and they’re heavy. And if your client wants you to pile them up and burn them, they stink (the needles not the clients) and you have to stay with them until the fire is out.
I spent many a fall both raking and mowing. After the yard was raked and the leaves or needles were either burned or bagged, it was time to mow.
I have to admit that a yard looks a lot better after both are done. And standing and admiring your work in the cool, fall air made the effort worth it.
Of course, having three or four dollars in your hand didn’t hurt.
Fall also was when my dad would send me out to split the wood that had been curing since it was cut and stacked a year or so earlier.
I never saw a mechanized log splitter in person until I was much older. When I did I was impressed. But there’s something rewarding about the cool sweat that forms on your brow when you are hand-splitting wood in the fall.
Since my grandfather was a blacksmith, our mawls and axes always had a sharp edge on them. If you had both of those and a sledgehammer, you had all that you needed to build up your supply of fuel for your wood stove or fireplace during the coming winter.
I never minded splitting wood in the fall for my family. I could take breaks, and the cool breeze, cold water, and the growing pile of wood gave me a sense of accomplishment.
My grandfather used to say that wood burned twice. Once when you split it, and again in the wood stove.
Today, that’s still one of my favorite things about a Southern fall. Bringing the wood up from the pole barn and stacking it in the rack near the chimney is a chore I don’t mind.
Whether the oak was part of a limb that fell on the property, or it was an entire tree that lived out its days, nothing is wasted. Just as it was decades ago in Arkansas, fall is the time when you make do with what you have, and tasks turn to treats.
And there’s no bigger treat than the first fire of the fall, built from wood you salvaged or acquired, so that your family can have a warm winter. A winter that comes after orange welcomes fall, the best Southern season of them all.
By John Moore