Friday, January 23, 2009

Burning leaves

Trees on Corregidor are not like the maples, oaks, and elms that we are used to in Michigan. Since it never freezes here, leaves are not a once a year project but an every day one. About the only time that leaves may not be falling is in April, when it is the hottest, driest, and calmest. Because of the ongoing leaf shedding, many job positions here are known as sweepers.

The brooms used are definitely different as well. The bristle end is a collection of hard thin sticks, bound tightly at the bottom of the handle, but then splaying out widely at the business end. Known as “stick brooms,” they are effective in the hands of skilled sweepers, somewhat difficult to get the hang of for the inexperienced. You almost have to push the leaves rather than sweep them, with a slight lifting motion to get the leaves off the ground.

Leaves are gathered into piles and then burned. Along the roads there are often drainage ditches to use, but in open areas, such as our yard, they are burned in multiple small piles, leaving a circle of ashes. Most leaves, and for that matter, branches, do not burn well. The leaves smolder if you can get them to light at all, and branches have to be stacked just right to maximize air flow or they also go out.

One year when we were here in April it was extremely dry. The grass was yellow, but the forest still looked green, although somewhat wilted. We were afraid that one careless person, throwing out a lit cigarette, could burn down the whole island. We remember a few leaf piles burning with minimal supervision, so it was obvious that the sweeper in charge was not concerned. We have since learned that wildfires only are possible here in areas of heavy dry grass, and they burn out as soon as the grass supply is consumed.

We had our own piles of branches along the edge of our forest, put there before we moved in. Steve suggested to Ronilo that when they burn the pile of wood from the trees that had to be cut in our yard, they haul the branches up and burn them as well. He said that this was a waste of time and effort, since you could light the piles of branches where they were. Steve protested that this risked setting the forest on fire. Ron assured him that the forest was safe, and in the meantime he has been proven right. Despite the branches being very dry, when a flame was put to them they tended to burn until the leaves were gone and then just go out, leaving a pile of scorched branches which then had to be collected, stacked carefully, and burned in piles.

Many leaves would not rather burn at all. We have one particular tree, possibly a type of fig, which drops leaves that are big as sheets of paper. When they are piled it is very difficult to get them to burn. Gilbert showed us that dried banana palm leaves, which we have in abundance across the road, are a good way to start the pile on fire. You just have to be careful when cutting the branches off the trunk that you don’t get attacked by ants whose domain you just disturbed. But ants are another story.

Three quick notes:

1. We are trying to use Outlook Express to manage our email. As a result, we have had to copy our address books, and it is possible that we have missed some duplicates. If you are receiving more than one copy or wish to be removed from our mailing list let us know.

2. Due to our super-slow email service, please don’t send us large attachments. It can take an hour to receive one email with a large photo. We love to get photos but try to make them internet size, 640x480 or smaller.

3. A number of you have suggested that rather than send emails we start a blog. This sounds like a great idea except that we are totally inexperienced, and, once again due to our slow internet, starting and then managing a blog on a regular basis might be difficult and frustrating. However, if someone with a lot of know-how wants to try to help us get started, we welcome your suggestions and help.

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