Written by Dale Suderman Wednesday, 05 December 2007 14:38My sister asked me to rake the leaves in her yard when I was her guest at Thanksgiving. I schemed to find a way to continue to eat her good cooking while doing no work.
For two days I was able to persuade her that raking leaves put me at risk of heat stroke due to near 80-degree temperatures.
Then I pointed out the impending cold front would produce 60 mph winds, making leaf raking an exercise in futility.
My final gambit was to suggest than a pending snowfall would cover the leaves on her lawn and make removing them irrelevant.
“Could you just go rake the leaves today?” she said in the tone of voice an older sister uses. Dialogue ended and I put on my gloves and found a rake and some trash bags.
Her corner lot is a huge expanse of leaves covering well-tended grass. Mostly these were alien leaves—illegal immigrants from trees blocks away. Some were so odd; I suspect they blew in from Oklahoma or Nebraska. I started to sort them by species with the intent to bag and return them to their original owners.
For a moment I became a Republican—folks should take responsibility for their own leaves and all aliens should be expelled.
Modernists believe nature must be rearranged into perfect lawns, controlled bushes and trimmed trees. Hauling leaves to a compost site, where in solitude, away from prying eyes of the community they can return to mulch and not spoil the faux landscape, is a critical part of the modern landscape. The leaf blower is the high-tech status symbol of modern leaf control.
I considered going over to good neighbor Oliver Mohn and borrowing his leaf blower. Then I remembered that when I borrowed his electric hedge clipper a few years ago, I cut his extension cord in half within 10 minutes. I continued to bag the leaves feeling increasingly a victim of modernity.
My sister has a lovely arrangement of dried leaves in a decorative pot near her front door. “How can these leaves on your porch be an art form, while you force me to do slave labor removing unfettered leaves from your lawn?” I asked during my second coffee break.
“Maybe the leaves on your front yard should be thought of as a post-modern art exhibit—a metaphor for the beauty of brown carpeting on a forest floor. Consider this: Henry David Thoreau did not rake leaves when he lived at Walden Pond. He learned to live in harmony with nature.”
She would have none of my philosophy.
“If you would talk and think a little less you would be done by now,” she said. “This is not a high-tech job—even small children know how to bag leaves," she added as she pointed to the door.
Several junior high students walked by and did not offer to help rake.
I considered burning the leaves but remembered that both the city and county now forbid leaf pyres. (Years ago, Hillsboro forbade burning trash and leaves only on Mondays since that was the day that women hung laundry out to dry. But now most laundry is dried indoors and an anti-burning ordinance is no longer really necessary.)
If it is carbon emissions we are concerned about, the total emissions from hauling leaves in a pickup truck, plus the use of heavy equipment to maintain the city compost heap, might almost equal the pollutants of raking them to the curb and setting them ablaze.
I gave up the idea of such civil disobedience and continued to rake leaves and put them in plastic bags. Mr. Kreutziger, another good neighbor came by and chuckled, “It is a lot of work to bag leaves. You could have just raked them and put them in the back of my pickup.”
I thanked him for his generous offer but I was nearly finished with my arduous task.
The next day it snowed—concealing my labor. The black bags of leaves formed a wonderfully abstract sculpture on my sister’s front lawn.
Sadly, I was persuaded to dismantle this and haul it to the composting center.
You can contact the writer at Dale.Suderman@gmail.com.