Jumping into a great big pile of leaves on a crisp fall day is one those childhood pleasures I’m pretty sure no one really enjoys. I hope I’m not ruining any fond memories from anyone’s youth, and I doubt I am. The only time jumping into and scattering a big pile of leaves was enjoyable was when we did it in that one guy’s yard. You know the sort of guy I mean—every neighborhood has one. He’d sit out on his porch scowling at the world, his mouth twisted up as though he’d been sucking a lemon, and if my friends and I were just walking by he’d yell at us to stay out of his yard. Sometimes, though, in the fall, we’d pass by and see piles of leaves in his yard and if he wasn’t around we’d jump into them and kick the leaves and throw them at each other. Then he’d come running out of his front door yelling and throwing lemons at us and we’d scatter like, well, so many leaves.
The leaf pile seems like a good idea in principle but in practice it’s just not that much fun. It’s like a ball pit. Yes, I have strong feelings about ball pits because I remember my first and only experience with one. I was nine or ten—almost too old to go in a ball pit, but I’d never seen one before and didn’t want to miss the chance to try it. I thought it would be like swimming in little plastic balls. It wasn’t but it was kind of an interesting tactile experience flailing around in there until I moved into a cluster of balls that were all oddly wet and I was trying to figure out what in a ball pit could be wet when I saw, at the edge, a kid who was half my age, or maybe even a third my age, in there with me, only he was standing up while I’d been stretched out, and he looked oddly relieved. I got out of there as fast as I could.
A pile of leaves may not be the target of the same kind of unintentional marination, although it could be if there are kids in your neighborhood, or if you have pets, or other animals that run loose through the area. Piles of leaves also attract various crawling things and while I like all sorts of bugs that doesn’t mean I want them finding a way into my pants. For that matter I don’t want tiny bits of broken, dried leaves getting into my clothes, and jumping into a pile of leaves naked is, at best, an imperfect solution—one that comes with all sorts of problems of its own. And piles of leaves tend to collapse easily. If they don’t that usually means there’s something in them other than leaves which is a whole other issue.
Still there’s a part of me that longs for a childhood experience that never was—one that’s been idealized in the imagination. I look at a pile of leaves, leaves I’ve raked together in my own yard, so I at least know where they’ve been, and it’s as though I can see my childhood self, decades removed now, on the other side of that pile of leaves, telling me, Just do it, just jump, and then I see that my childhood self has this oddly relieved look on his face and I yell at him to get out of my yard.