Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Good, Bad and Raking

Robert Frost wrote, with irony, in a poem that "good fences makes good neighbors."

In my part of town, where we are not supposed to fence the front of our properties to retain something of a "park-like setting," autumn creates an opportunity to remember just where one property starts and another ends.

The leaves fall and you will see one house with an immaculate lawn. The service has come through, many people with lawn blowers and hurricane fans putting leaves to the curb, more or less; or perhaps mowing the grass, mulching the leaves, sucking them into the bag, which is emptied at the curb. The service goes right up to the property line.

One side, pristine green. The other side, my lawn.
Good raking makes good neighbors.
My husband does one final lawn cut, crunching up the first round of fallen leaves to allow them to work into the lawn. After that, we'll be out with our rakes, blower and tarps for the next few weeks, until the town stops collecting what we put out front.

In the backyard we have the maples, elms, apple, pear and oaks shedding leaves. In the front, however, we have black locusts.

I don't know who decided many decades ago to line my street with black locusts. That man or woman could've picked the Bradford pears. These stately trees line my downtown street and perhaps yours. They bloom wonderfully in spring, the leaves turn red in fall and they produce ornamental fruit the birds eat.

Black locusts are not so nice. Their roots push up the curb and the street. The little yellow leaves fall early in autumn and get everywhere, at which point they are tracked into home and garage. The stems also fall and mat on the grass. There are male and female trees, and if you are one of those "lucky" enough to have a female tree, as I am, you have  LOTS of long black pods that must be swept off the lawn or you'll have a forest instead of a park-like setting.

So as I am raking the pods down to the curb every year, I wonder if the person who decided on locusts has a few in his or her front yard and is also raking pods. I would like to meet that person, ask, "Why locusts?" (which are no longer planted in my town because of the damage they cause) and, if I'm in the wrong mood, punch him or her in the nose.

It is literally and figuratively a pain to do this every year, but there is some good that comes from all this raking. I am out of the house, using my arms and legs in much more (to me) useful exercise than lifting weights or riding a stationary bicycle. I am reacquainting myself with my lawn - I can see where the ground ivy is taking over, where the skunks and squirrels have been digging, where MH is going to need to put down more grass seed. I prefer this to paying a lawn service that mows every week whether the lawn needs it or not.

brown creeper
Raking also allows me to hear the birds. As I work, I hear the Canada geese. I look up and see about 10 flying generally north. However, I know these are not migrants. They would be heading south at this time of year, would be in a much larger group and be much higher in the sky. Still, I enjoy watching geese as they fly.
One year, resting from my labors, I looked up to find a brown creeper making its way up one of the locust trees, probing the crevices of its bark with its long, thin bill. Unlike the nuthatch, which climbs up and down trees with abandon, the creeper only goes up. Once at the top, it flies to the bottom of the next tree and works its way up again.

This morning as I was raking there were bluebirds - a rare pleasure - and a Carolina wren singing nearby, reminding me that soon I must bring in my plants and put out my feeders.

Winter will be here soon enough. Even with the cold and the darkness at 5pm, I welcome the respite from the garden chores.

Especially the raking.