Raking leaves

It’s happening already, an autumnal cavalcade of corpses crunching under underfoot as the calendar hits late September. The first fall of leaves in Fairfield County is a thing of beauty, but like most beauties, it benefits from infrequent visits. In addition, there’s a price to be paid for her presence: In this case, raking leaves.

Nowhere is humankind’s feeble attempt to control Mother Nature more fruitless than in our attempts to clean up after her. Some of us rush out with our rakes the moment the first leaf hits the ground, as if trying to convince the leaves that remain in the trees that the flight will be a mixed blessing. Others squeal with delight at the first chance to use that new leaf blower, only to realize that dry, short grass and a motor the size of a Mini Cooper are needed to do anything other than make the leaves shake in place. Silly rabbit: Mother Nature’s already provided a leaf blower: They’re called October, November, March and April.

I miss the old days — the days before anybody cared about frivolous things like killing our planet — when we could burn our leaves in the back yard. There was something magical about the smell, the whole neighborhood awash in a smoky haze. To experience that nowadays, you have to travel to the Amazonian rainforest (they don’t do frivolous — they have a much more relaxed view toward our planet’s destruction).

My dad was not a “first fall” guy. With a lawn more crabgrass than grass, the leaves offered a welcome “cleaning of the slate” for our yard. Leaves and snow evened the scales in the neighborhood turf competition. Therefore, raking the leaves off our yard was more punishment than lawn maintenance. We didn’t live in Siberia and so couldn’t break blocks of ice, so my parents had us raking the leaves several times a season even though we were surrounded by trees (and therefore struggling to keep up in a race we’d never win). Like recent college graduates, they’d turn on you and fly away, only to return as soon as we turned our back.

Eventually, most of us succumb, stuck with the autumn games of “How many blisters will this rake handle give me?” and “How long until the rake bottom breaks free from the handle?” and “Go ask the neighbor for a rake,” and “How long until the neighbor rakes my leaves just to be rid of them?” There are hidden dangers to raking, after all. As my dad used to say, “How did the Michigan fan break his leg raking leaves? He fell out of the tree.” (Dad was a Notre Dame fan.)

I have to admit I like a few leaves on my lawn. Something has to cover the dead patches of grass our dogs wantonly killed in their urinary excesses all summer. Still, I bought a house that has few trees on the property line so I wouldn’t have to worry about raking much. My form of raking is simple: It’s called “cutting the grass.” At that point, they’re no longer leaves — the form changes, and so does the necessity. If I ever get tired of looking at leaves in my yard, I’ll get off the couch and go into action: I’ll close the curtains.


You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him a [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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