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Karl Gustav von Amling: Autumn (1698)

" … really looking like home."

I harvest a prodigious crop of leaves each autumn. I take great pride in scraping my yard bare before the snow starts falling and in time for the final municipal leaf collection. I think of this work as a civic responsibility, but I actually do it for myself, for no other activity provides the opportunity to practice one of my minor masteries. I'm very good at raking leaves. Leaf raking can be a frustrating business, for they're surprisingly heavy, and even when they fall light and airy, they cannot be meaningfully condensed and must be removed in tiny stages. A tarpload of wet leaves weighs hundreds of pounds and feels like dragging a carcass across the lawn. A steady pace succeeds where brute force fails. Leave-taking tries patience.

It's chess played on a grander scale, requiring strategy and tenacity in more or less equal measure.
I cannot just run the mower over them and hope to pick them up in the grass catcher. I'd be emptying the grass catcher every two feet, and the intake would quickly clog. The leaf blower serves as a minor assistant, a brush for finishing touches. What might seem easier proves tedious. It's best in almost every instance to use the rake. In my youth, I'd construct a massive pile before burying myself in it, praying that I'd not raked into it any overlooked dog crap. The scent and sensation of being buried within a leaf pile serves as an inoculation against the coming months of chill and deprivation. It's the last gasp of the spring and summer, sharing their bounty with me. After this, it's canned fruit and frozen peas.

The first leaf fall occurs just after that cold snap, but few of those babies give way yet. I still clean up the result as more of a practice session. I clean out the rose garden, lingering to take out any end-of-season clover attempting another intrusion. The Muse prunes out the rose bushes removing foliage to prevent wind damage. The feeling at the end of that first practice afternoon, with the driveway glistening and the grass gleaming as the evening brings back that chill, thrills me. I retire inside to build a fire and warm myself for subsequent rakings. Raking provides excellent aerobic exercise, which reliably produces exquisite exhaustion. I hibernate after raking.

The final session takes a few days to finish. It demands some discipline because everything hangs in its balance. In years past, I have just raked the last leaves into the flowerbeds, justifying my sloth with stories of beneficial insects overwintering in those piles. The following March, I inherited a genuine mess and no municipal pickup to help. Weeks and weeks of overfilling the green bin encumbered my Spring rituals. I also missed the exquisite exhaustion a body needs as Winter settles in. One can only expect to decently hibernate after tuckering themselves out good. As the fog descends, the gardens glow with promise. The sidewalks should be ready for snow and subsequent shoveling. Nothing should be left in the way of the upcoming holidays. Sure, the yard looks barren then, but it's freshly shaven and combed and really looks like home.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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