Grass burning was the social event of the season

I know I’m not the first person to say it, but although it’s taken awhile, spring seems to be finally here. The time of year when we homeowners stow the shovels and retrieve the racks. We take the oil out of the snow blower and put new oil in the lawn mower. (Ok, I don’t but I’m sure there’s some conscientious folks who do.)

Last weekend, the first full weekend with absolutely no snow in my yard, we spent time and money getting our yard back. This winter, understandably so, the city cut the banks more times than I can remember. As a result, the sand and gravel that usually makes its way about four or five feet on to my yard, is more than first-down distance this year. For the first time I rented one of those “Power Sweepers.” I had never used one before and it was interesting. Imagine wielding a fifty pound rake … with a mind of its own.

But of all the things we did … raking, bagging leaves, hauling garbage, the only thing we didn’t do was the thing I remember most about spring time as a kid. Burning grass.

You’ve got to understand, growing up in a little Upper Peninsula town, burning grass in the vacant fields around town was more than an incentive to help the grass grow. No, it was the social event of the season.

I’m not sure who determined when the “village grass burning’ was to take place, but once the decision was made, there was an excitement that maybe only our annual Labor Day Festival could match.

The Maple Ridge Township Fire Dept. would bring out all the fire trucks (both of them) and let us kids ride from one field to another.

It seemed like grass burning day was the only time kids weren’t in the way of fire fighters. Remember this was the 1960s in small town U.P. without cable and 30 miles from the nearest movie theater. So local fires, although tragic, were also a major source of entertainment. In a “real” fire, we kids had to keep our distance but when it came to grass burning we could get right in there with shovels, rakes, anything that would assist the burning process and prevent the town from burning down. One time I got so up close and personal with the burning grass I melted my Red Ball Jets. (Those of you under 50 may have to ask someone about those.)

There were other spring activities I suppose, smelting, sucker spearing, cleaning up the Lions Park. But nothing brought the entire community together like grass burning.

We’d usually start behind Cliff and Tootie Carlson’s then proceed west to the field behind Clarence Larson’s. Usually the last field was the one behind our house. Understand I’m talking about a serious fire here not just a smoldering leaf pile. Sometimes the flames would shoot ten feet into the air. At those times, the fire trucks were on hand for more than taxi service for 12-year-olds.

For days after the town would have that sweet smell of burned grass and in just days green shoots would come up from the ashes.

It’s one of those stories that is really hard to explain to most folks. But if you grew up in a little town like I did, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And you probably miss it as much as I do.

Editor’s note:?Mark Wilcox is the managing editor at The Daily Mining Gazette