Raking Leaves

On Monday, after work, I pull on a light T-shirt and capris, and I go out to rake one-half of the front lawn. It is seventy degrees out, and sunny, and I am hot by the time I’ve raked a good part of the lawn half. The leaf are crisp, and little white midges—or SOME kind of bug—swirl up from the grass where the rake upsets them.

I rake the leaves down over the little retaining wall, and then I run down the two steps to the street. I use the rake like a shovel, heaping leaf piles, making sure they are, at least for a moment, all piled up on the hell strip.

Tuesday’s weather is much the same. My cheeks feel a little sun-toasted. I notice the leaf-sucker has been by; all the leaves from the right side of the front yard have been snuffled up, carried away.

I use the rake to wiggle leaves out from under bushes and up and over the rocks between my yard and Sandy’s. I clean out a column of yard, pushing leaves into a wavery line; then I go around on the other side and do the same thing.

When there’s pretty green space all along that wavering line of leaves, I start at the top—up close to the house,–and I push and rake and bulldoze those leaves down to the curb.

These are neighbor-leaves, the bounty of a beautiful neighborhood filled with shade trees. When they splay onto the concrete, they make a lovely collage—oak leaves and maple leaves; little yellow oval leaves with pointy tips. Sweet gum leaves.

Some leaves crisp and flake as I rake them. Others are as tough as vintage leather.

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On Wednesday, I run the mower in the backyard, chewing up pine needles that spread, golden, everywhere. Piney scent hangs in the air, dense and Christmassy.

Once again, out front, the leaf sucker has made away with the piles at the curb.

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When I go out to rake on Thursday afternoon, I wear my jacket. A little rain has scampered through town, and the temperature dropped twenty degrees. But the sun shines pale when I start, again, to clear those wandering leaves nestled on my lawn. This year, I vow, I am going to keep on top of the leaf situation; this year, I’m going to get them to the curb to be sucked away before the wind takes them and scatters them in yards that are innocent of trees.

These particular leaves may not originate in my yards, but my sweet gum is waiting, still mostly green, breath held. It will let Sandy’s trees shed completely; it will let the neighborhood clean itself up. It will wait until the leaf sucker has decided, “I don’t need to make any more runs!”

And then the sweet gum will start, sassy and lazy, to drop its leaves. And the wind will pick them up and sprinkle them, judiciously dividing them up among neighboring yards.

That can go on until Christmas; the sweet gum is big and it’s loaded with leaves and it is slow—so slow—to let them go.

So I build a daily practice, do penance beforehand for my messy tree, send as many leaves as I can off to Leaf Sucker Land.

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In other years, more recent ones, I have not raked this much. I pulled the mower out and mulched leaves into great piles, and breezes ruffled that mulchiness gleefully and scattered it, but the mulch didn’t deface lawns like big chunky leaves do. Sometimes I would get the rake out and Mark would plug the leaf blower in, and we would tag team the front yard, working quickly, our minds set on just getting ‘er done.

Now I am leaf-raking-mindful. After the rain, when the temps drop, the scents of fall change. There is a musty leaf smell, and the rich earthy tones of the dirt. The sun breaks through the cloud bank, and I am immediately cheered.

The clouds close ranks again, the sky darkens ominously, and worry wiggles around the back of my neck.

“Powerful thunderstorms” the weather app warns.

I want those clear green patches—even knowing that, by this time tomorrow, more merry little leaf-pranksters will have raced to fill the vacuum that nature abhors. A person riding by wouldn’t say, “Gosh, she’s keeping up with raking, isn’t she?”

No, they’d say, “The leaves are really coming down now,” instead.

But I don’t care. I am driven to rake this year, and I am finding out a surprising truth-for-me: raking leaves makes the whole adventure of autumn more intense.

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The act of raking calls up memories.

I am three and dressed in flannel-lined blue jeans, folded up at the cuff, and a long sleeved, striped T-shirt. All of those are hand-me-downs from older brothers, but the Red Riding Hood cape is all mine. It has a hood I keep perched on my head, covering the tightly wrought French braids, but not obscuring the short, short bangs on my forehead.

(Once, after she died, I found a cache of special cards my mother saved. Among them was a Hallmark card I gave her, probably in my young twenties. The cover said something like, “Happy birthday, Mom! I appreciate all the great things you do…”

And when I opened it, I read this, “…and I forgive you for all the times you cut my bangs too short.”)

At three, I like jumping and crunching through piles of leaves in my Red Riding Hood cape, pretending I’m on my way to Grandma’s, pretending that I, personally, will vanquish that dreadful wolf. Someone takes my picture on the sidewalk next to the school I will attend. Great piles of leaves have blown off the retaining wall, and I am buried up to my shoulders in leaves, only my red-hooded head sticking out. I am grinning.

I have the picture in an album. It is hard for me to sort the memory from the knowledge of the black and white photo, with its date stamp and crinkled white edges.

Do I remember this time in the leaves, or does the picture give me the knowledge I wish I could claim as memory?

A little bit of both maybe. And a little reminder, to me, how important leaves are to fall.

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I remember ‘helping’ rake the leaves at home. I remember jumping in the leaf piles; I remember when the work had to be done all over again.

Later, I remember being at the mercy of the leaf sucker schedule at several homes where we lived along the way…and my neighbor Rosie pounding on the back door in Mount Vernon.

“They’re up the street!” she yelled, and I ran out and grabbed the rake; Rosie wielded hers, and we both raked energetically, shooting great piles of leaves toward the street.

Rosie was eighty-something at the time, and I was hard-pressed to keep up. We cleared an amazing number of leaves before the hungry machine lumbered to my curb and snuffled up the fresh foliage dunes we’d created—the leaves still quivering and settling.

And I remember Rosie shrugging off my thank you’s with a grin and a wave.

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The weather cools after a long, warm fall. The furnace kicks on one night.

I cook pots of chili and minestrone. We peel apples and chop them into the crockpot with butter and brown sugar and cinnamon and come home to a house scented with hot applesauce. This is part of Fall, too: the urge to turn the harvest into food for now, and food that will last..food that will nourish us through the winter.

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We check outdoor clothes. A new pair of ankle boots with furry cuffs arrives in a smiling box. Coats hang ready in the back hall closet, plastic peeled away. I wash and dry the gloves and hats and knitted scarves and bring them all upstairs.

Some mornings now, I pull thin gloves on my hands before I take my walk.

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But the walking gets later and later. Now the sun rises at 7:45 a.m.; now if I take a morning walk in the light, I am rushing to be at work at 9:00.

One day I bow to the inevitable and go to the gym and re-up our memberships.

Now I can creep out to the car in the early dark morning and drive to the gym. I can walk on the indoor track, then pump my arms and legs on the elliptical, moving the day forward, walking into the light.

It grows light later; night falls earlier.

Is that why we call this season ‘fall,’ I wonder. And Dictionary.com tells me it is for the obvious reason—that leaves, in autumn, fall from deciduous trees—just as, in spring, shoots and stems and furry, fuzzy-eyed babies spring forth.

In autumn, night falls earlier. Rain falls more often. And leaves fall, fall and bluster, playing with the wind, sheltering in the nooks and crannies of my yard.

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I think about the inventions whose creators we’ll never know about. What genius carved the first spoon? Who perfected shoe laces? And who invented the rake, for heaven’s sake?

I picture someone, in a cultivated field, maybe, trying to move leaves and debris left by a storm. She opens her hand, splays her fingers, and rakes the clutter away from her food plants that way.

She cuts her flesh and her fingernails tear, and she develops a picture in her mind—a big hand-like tool, but made, maybe, of strong wood.

When she has cleared the space she needs to clear, she cleans her poor battered hands and goes back to the hearth. And she talks about the big, wooden hand to her mate, a person who makes things. Together, they gather limbs from a hardwood tree and vines to tie them together, and they experiment, and they work, and they revise until they create an effective rake.

Maybe it happened something like that, the process lost to history. And once the rake was developed, generation after generation improved the design.

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I remember the thin metal tines of the rakes I used as a young person. I hated the shrekking sound they made, scraping across concrete or pavement; that sound made my teeth hurt. Now, my rake’s tines are sturdy plastic; they don’t bend, or fall off, and they don’t make they awful sound.

Now I rake the leaves from the cement floor of the car port, and from the black-topped driveway, and it’s an easy process that doesn’t jangle. The only jangling note is that, next day, there are more leaves where I’ve cleared. It all needs to be done again.

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It is a season of falling things, but not all falls are negative. There is falling in love, after all, and there is another wonderful kind of falling—falling into a reverie, one that transports and refreshes. These cool, gray days are perfect for fascinating reveries, for long descents into deep thoughts.

I want to feel the pulse and the meaning of this season, to participate in all of its preparations and rituals.

I want to be aware of the changes, to be there as they happen.

So this year, this fall, I am raking leaves.

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https://www.dictionary.com/e/fall/

6 thoughts on “Raking Leaves

  1. What a lovely piece. Sometimes I have memories that I think are partly picture and partly inside my brain.
    I grew up rural and leaves just blew away. I so enjoyed having leaves in the yard when we lived in the city. I miss them as once again we live rural and the wind just takes them. I had no idea that one could take their leaves to the curb for a machine to come along and eat them up. Seems a bit of a pity as leaves are good mulch and compost components. I do love my fall walk to work in the city as it’s a mature neighborhoud and there are leaves galore!

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