Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Raking Leaves (Again)

I broke my rake the other day. For the uninitiated, a rake is bunch of fingers on the end of long stick used to move leaves to the curb for the city to pick up. I was leaning on the rake trying to squash the pile so the wind wouldn’t carry too many leaves to the neighbors’ yards. The rake broke where the tines attach to the handle. Over I went, flat on my back into the pile of leaves. It was like bein’ a kid again.

I have raked leaves for a lot of years and kind of like doing it, just as long it’s not totally futile. While I have a few electric yard toys, a leaf blower is not one of them. A rake is not a natural thing to own in this gasoline/electric/fuel efficient world. Like doing dishes by hand. I don’t hurry the process. And it’s not the kind of thing you do to corral the very last leaf. It’s more for your comfort of doing the job yourself, your own labors, on a nice sunny afternoon. Not burning more gas or running up the electric bill only to get back inside to watch the finish of the game.

As Ed Bell says in his “Technology, Movement, and Sound.” “if you can’t gather up leaves without protecting your own eyes and ears, perhaps there’s a better way of doing it.” We gripe about the motionless society but we don’t do anything about it when given the chance. Besides, there is some strong attachment to the sound of the tines combing through the grass and leaves.

There is no rush but the city sets aside the first couple of weeks in November to vacuum up leaves piled at the curbside and so I have to be ready. But it’s note something that has to be done as soon as the leaves begin to fall. Part of the yard got two passes because one of my Maple trees, for whatever reasons, dropped them in two batches.

Nor is raking hard on the hearing. I like the sound of the tines and the leaves. There’s a comfort in this motion and ever so slight muscle ache. In that swishing sound of the leaves moving.

This isn’t a contest. Or at least, it shouldn’t be and I suppose part of the problem why we use machines instead of a rake is we see leaves as a nuisance that needs punishing. Or destroyed. Or captured. Like this is contest between you and the leaves and leaves must die!

In this overheated world of ours, where we at once want exercise and diet but also remotes and front door parking, surely something like raking the leaves is what we were made to do. The rake is almost as pure as a hammer. Or a one-speed bicycle. It’s basic. It only wants us to use it.

And it’s not that I don’t have tools. I have an electric hedge trimmer and an electric trimmer. And a gas lawnmower. But, I’ve used my timber saw often enough to know when it and I am overpowered by too much wood and must get out the electric chainsaw. And my long-handled clippers are much easier and quicker to grab for use than the electric shears. That knowledge or that willingness must be part of the equation.

I was tempted this year, getting a late start on the raking, to rake one evening after sundown under the full moon. It seemed romantic almost. I suspect the neighbors would have called the cops but on a warm evening, in need of burning off part of the daily frustrations, why not? I didn’t need headlights to see nor a blower to make noise nor would I get a sunburn. Unless you are out hiking or camping (in a tent), raking leaves is about as close to nature as you can get where you are in the weather and part and parcel of God and the many millennia.

Just me and my trusty sidekick, Rake, and several hundred square feet of Maple leaves.



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