Growing up on a farm and living out in the country meant we didn’t have our trash picked up. The wet trash we flung into the field to the north of the house. The bottles and cans went into one trash barrel, and all the paper goods went into the incinerators back behind the shed. Every week we took the trash out and sorted it as needed. The cans and bottles were eventually taken to the dump, but only when we had collected a whole truck full.
When the weather was right we had permission from the man on the radio to burn. Burn days depended on the quality of the air. In the winter when the smudge pots around Orange Cove were lit to keep the citrus groves from freezing, the air was always bad, and we weren’t allowed to burn. Most of the time it wasn’t a big deal. Occasionally we burned a barrel full of trash at night.
One day we had an especially big pile of trash to burn. More than the usual 2 or 3 barrels. Dad put me in charge. I was having a grand time playing with the flames that grew higher and higher. I kept throwing on cardboard boxes and paper trash, watching the flames rise up into the sky. Suddenly Dad showed up and saw what was happening. He ran for a hose and yelled at me to protect the Kelsey plum tree that was closest to the fire. Because it was a good 10 to 15 feet away, I hadn’t even given it a thought. But as I looked, I could see that the leaves were scorched, and shriveling from the fire’s heat.
As we worked to douse the tree with water to cool it down, I could see that Dad was almost in tears because of the harm I had caused to this one tree. I remember at first thinking it was just a tree, one of thousands in our orchards, but when I saw the love, the genuine love Dad had for that one tree, my heart sank, and I never looked at one of Dad’s trees in the same way again.