Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

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

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Raking It In

“Thinking is learning all over again how to see, directing one's consciousness, making of every image a privileged place.” 
― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

The other week we were driving home from a family gathering in New Hampshire. We made a stop at one of New Hampshire's waysides to use the bathroom and stretch our legs. The trees were full of colorful leaves, just past peak in this region of the U.S.

A woman was standing nearby with her dog, which strained to come to me. I walked over and pet it. The woman and I talked. She was in awe of the colorful leaves because where she lives, in Arizona, you don't see fall foliage like that. "Someday I have to bring my grandchildren here so they can see this," she told me as MH walked back to the car. She bade me farewell and walked with her dog to her waiting husband sitting in their van.

(Margo D. Beller)
I thought of that woman as I was raking today. I'd like to have a backyard of cactus.

Autumn leaves are beautiful but they are dying. As the days shorten and the weather turns cold, the trees start sending precious life fluids down to their roots. The green leaves start to turn color and drop to the ground. Some days the leaves fall like rain.

Which is why today I was outside in the early morning cold with my rake, tarp and blower.

I find blowers to be a necessary evil. I have "earmuffs," which look like old headphones, to protect my ears when I use our blower, which is electric-powered and relatively quiet compared with the big leaf blowers and hurricane fans used by the lawn services. I wear them even when I rake, to block out the noise of the neighbors in our bit of suburbia, who in their lawn lust want every last speck of leaf removed.

This was the second Saturday this season I've gone out to rake. MH joined me an hour in last week and we kept banging into each other until we developed an unspoken plan involving raking (him) and blowing (me) and putting tarpfuls of leaves at the curb (both of us).

Less than 24 hours later, a storm blew through with wind and rain, bringing down more leaves and covering our lawn. You'd never know we'd been out there. Just like Sisyphus, we'd have to do it again.

Before the fall - 8 a.m., Nov. 6, 2016 (Margo D. Beller)
This time, after a bad night's sleep, I went out early. I used the rake to pull leaves away from edges and the patio, then pushed them on the tarp. I dragged the tarp around the house to fill it with leaves and then dump it at the curb. Across the road one of my neighbors' lawn guy was unloading his equipment. He looked at me and I half-feared and half-hoped he'd ask me if I needed any help. But he didn't. He went on with his work and I went back to fill another tarpful.

My neighbor with this lawn service used to do it himself, until he had a heart attack. I can understand his hiring someone. There will surely come a time when MH, with his aching knees, and I, with various back problems, won't be able to do this ourselves anymore. Our nephew and nephew-in-law are landscapers, but they live in other states. We have no children or grandchildren to help us. For now, we do it.

Whether I use the rake or the blower, the birds are not happy when I come close to the feeders or the water dishes. The chickadees, titmice and white-breasted nuthatch fly in, grab and go when they think I'm not looking or am far enough away. The house finches, jays and house sparrows stay away. They know I will come after them if they stay too long at the feeders. Left unchecked, they'll just sit and eat until there is no more seed, to the detriment of other birds.

White-breasted nuthatch above, titmouse below. (Margo D. Beller)

But once I get far enough away, they are right back at it.

Raking is a quiet activity. It is a thoughtful activity. Unlike sitting and staring into a computer, raking allows me to concentrate on doing something physical and tangible - getting leaves on a tarp - instead of worrying about the usual intangible things such as whether I still have a job or if I can pay the bills this month. In its way, it is as restful as meditating.

When my arms started to ache, I put on my earmuffs and used my blower to create piles. I do this to give me something of substance to put on the tarp. Blowing leaves to the curb is a waste of time, energy and electricity, although those with those gas-belching fans that roar like a jet engine don't share my concerns.

Sure, they were done in 20 minutes as opposed to the several hours I took. But little by little I filled and moved the tarp, then dumped it, until I had gotten the entire backyard done, by which time MH had come out and started raking the front. I felt very accomplished and rather energized, surprisingly so.

There are times I am depressed. This seems to happen a lot at this time of year. The end of the year is near and the November in my soul, triggered by the same lack of light and cold that bring down the leaves, prompts "what's the point" moments.

I sit and wonder:  What's the point of cleaning the house when it's only going to get dusty again? What's the point of getting dressed when I work at home and don't want to see anyone? What's the point of raking when more leaves are going to come down?

What's the point of living when you're going to die anyway?

When I get to that point, I have to take myself outside. As I rake in the cold, feeling the breeze and seeing the birds flitting about in the now-bare trees, I calm down. We live to push that boulder to the top of the hill, even when it falls down and we have to push it up again.

So I go out with my rake and tend to my little plot in the universe.

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