Monday, November 14, 2011

Raking Perfect

Over the years I’ve become adept at delaying household chores until the perfect moment arrives. If it sometimes happens that the window of opportunity closes entirely, I say, “There’s always next year.”

Saturday was the perfect day to rake leaves—cool, bright, dry. I’d been over the grass a few times with the mower in recent weeks, so there weren’t a whole lot of leaves left to rake—mostly stragglers from the two big maple trees in the front yard. Due to the dry weather every leaf had a twisted, sculptural quality that I found myself admiring repeatedly as I leaned on my rake, enjoying the fall sunlight and assessing my stately progress across the yard. The wind kicked up from time to time, and I began to notice a leaf I didn’t recognize in the mix, small and heart-shaped, like a poplar leaf without the scalloped edges. Also greener than the rest. It dawned on me at last that they’d fallen from my neighbor’s redbud tree and drifted in from thirty yards way.
I hold firmly to the belief that it’s pointless to rake the leaves out from under the bushes. You can’t see them, they might be good for the bushes (who knows?), and in any case, why add needlessly to the world’s landfill problems?

We dump most of our leaves into a wire enclosure in the back yard. We occasionally dig soil out the bottom of the pile in the spring, but for the most part the leaves just sit there, sinking under their own weight, year after year.

Sunday morning new leaves were scattered across the yard, of course. Not so many as before, but fairly evenly spaced, as if some yet-undiscovered principle of physics were at work. The sky had turned gray. I climbed up onto the roof to clean out the gutters—yes, by hand—priding myself personally on how quiet the neighborhood was.

While I was up there, I also lopped off some overhanging branches of the mulberry and walnut trees that have been transformed from unnoticed weeds to impressive trunks in a remarkably short span. Not so long ago I was mistaking the walnuts for sumac volunteers and wondering why they weren’t sending out suckers.

An adventurous squirrel has once again figured out how to leap the ten feet from the roof of the house onto the birdfeeder. He skedaddles when I open the deck door, sometimes scurrying down the pole, at other times taking the plunge directly to the ground fifteen feet below. He invariably sits coyly on the far side of the feeder as he nibbles, blithely unaware, perhaps, that his long bushy tail is dangled there in plain sight. I’ve noticed that he eats less than the blue jays scatter when they visit. But he also keeps the birds away, and the feeding tray is hardly big enough to hold him.

Last night, as I was hauling the garbage can out to the street, I spotted four huge turkeys sitting in the trees above the neighbor’s house. I didn’t know they could fly so high.

Keats got it right in “Ode to Autumn”:
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too …

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