This is a true story about falling leaves, a fire pit, and a fireman. Our backyard is at the bottom of a wooded hill. When autumn arrives, the leaves fall, covering our yard. I don’t mind. It’s beautiful. The wooded hill attracted us to the home. So, I mow and rake and mow and rake and …

A few years ago, on a sunny October Sunday, I was enjoying the weather, raking leaves, and sipping on a beer while I listened to NPR. Late in the afternoon, I decided to start a fire in my firepit.

After another beer, okay, two more, I thought, what the hell, instead of raking all these leaves back up the hill, I’ll throw some on the fire. They burned nicely.

Someone’s at the fence

Maybe an hour later, I saw the top of a red hard hat bouncing along the outside of my wooden privacy fence. What the what?

“Hello, may I speak with you, sir?”

“I guess, but who are you?”

“I’m with the Speedway Fire Department. Could you open the gate, please?”

The fireman put out his hand and asked my name.

“Randy, Randy Clark.”

“Mr. Clark, did you know it’s against local ordinances to burn leaves?”

“No, sir, I did not.”

“Yes, sir, it is. Leaf burning is a health and fire hazard. It releases toxic particles and gases, and the rising embers can spread fire, especially with the woods within 20 feet of your fire.

Mr. Clark, I’m going to give you a warning ticket. However, if we have to come back, there will be a fine. Here’s a pamphlet outlining when you can legally use a firepit and what you can and cannot burn.”

“I understand.”

I walked the fireman back to our street and discovered a full-size fire truck parked in front of my home. My neighbors must have discovered it as well because several were in their front yards gawking.

I thanked the fireman and crew and then headed inside to explain my transgression to my wife.

The Pamphlet 

I sat at the kitchen table and began reading the pamphlet. There was a list of what couldn’t be burned. Leaves were at the top of the list.

The only thing that could be burned was natural wood. Ordinances prohibited the burning of construction materials, boards, or plywood.

It listed when a fire was legal. My eye caught number 3 – “Fire was allowed for religious services.” That was it! I’d build a cross and set in the ground next to my pit! I didn’t. I went with number 5 – “Fire may be legally used for cooking.”

So, in a small section of my fire pit, I stacked bricks and placed a grill on top. I’d be sure I always had some hot dogs and marshmallows in the fridge before lighting a fire. Heck, if Station number 5 came back I’d feed them. They never came back.

I was making a small fire in the pit’s cooking section when the thought occurred to me that what the heck, I should cook something. I did.

That was the beginning of my obsession. Now, weather permitting, I grill over a wood fire at least a couple of times a week. I bake potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil in the coals, roast shish kabobs of vegetables, and I’ve grilled steaks, chicken, fish, shrimp, and pork. One time I even grilled Romaine lettuce! ( I saw this on a wood grilling TV series, and it works.)

I’ve always had a passion for fires. No, I’m not a pyromaniac. I just like campfires. And I’m passionate about cooking. So, now I have a passion for wood fire grilling. I love sitting next to my fire, listening to NPR, grilling a steak, and sipping on a beer, but only one beer, okay, maybe two.

This post originally appeared in Erik Deckers’ Laughing Stalk

Want to read a collection of humor pieces?

I Think I’m Funny: and it gets me in trouble all the time is a collection of 47 stories, more than 30 are true tales from my days on this planet. Most of those make it clear how my warped sense of humor gets me in trouble.

Photo by Randy Clark (Yep, that’s the firepit.)