Missoula is a funny place, sometimes. We live in a zone where it's illegal to install a woodburning stove, but backyard burning is allowed most of the year. This weekend as we sipped our Saturday morning coffee and planned out our day, the view from our barnboard table included an alarming plume of smoke from one of the neighbor's properties. At first, after peering around trees just enough to confirm that there was not in fact any house-fire happening over there, we decided it must just be a tough, smoky start to a burn pile, and settled back to our coffee hoping it would clear out soon.
As the smoke continued though, we could make out figures of various sizes moving through the growing haze with rakes, and it became clear that this was not just a matter of lighting a stubborn brush pile--they were burning a substantial crop of wet fall leaves. We debated what to do. We love meeting and talking with neighbors, but we really try to avoid telling them what to do. At the same time, we were watching a steady stream of smoke billow out towards all these houses.
Noah decided to brave the potential of seeming too pushy, and approach the neighbors with the offer of taking the leaves off their hands. Because, you see, for us a pile of fall leaves is not so much a disposal problem as it is a resource. We go to great lengths to gather them up.
Last fall we made regular trips through town with the farm pickup, gathering load after load of leaves from people setting them out for trash pickup in the city. Driving by one place when the truck was already full, Noah leaned out the window and called out to the neighbor stuffing bags "We'll be back for those!" One day, coming home on errands, I stuffed 6 full trash bags of leaves into our VW Jetta. We mulched fruit trees, garden beds, garden paths with them. We stockpiled bags and used them as chicken bedding all winter. They are a valuable source of carbon for our many compost bins.
Thankfully, the family across the field appreciated our offer of a less-smoky way to dispose of their leaves: we'd take them all. We left a pickup truck and trailer with them, which they loaded with filled bags, but it was with the loose leaves that the real parade started. The families involved live just a few hundred yards away by cross-pasture, ditch-jumping shortcut but a solid mile away by roads (very slow, rural-neighborhood roads). They hooked up a nice little lift-bed trailer to their car, stuffed it with full tarps of leaves, and topped it with a few of the kids who were helping. They were a little shy at first, but by the fourth trip, it was a veritable parade vehicle, and on arriving they were leaping in leaves, collecting eggs, and feeding the chickens.
It worked out for everyone--a little easier to breathe the neighborhood air, a freshly collected egg sent home with each kid, and for us: a deep and satisfying supply of leaves for the garden. Another good neighboring, where a quick walk over and short conversation was all it took to turn some problems and tasks into solutions for all of us.