By Timothy Hull
“In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind”
As much as one can appreciate the fullness of color and ubiquity of autumn foliage, it certainly adds to the labors of the season as untold numbers of leaves must be raked up and carried away to compost in order to put the gardens to bed for the winter. If an average large tree has over 25,000 leaves, and we have dozens of those, and we have two very mature trees with possibly over 100,000 leaves, I estimate that Kory and I raked up perhaps half a million leaves (or more!) over the course of three weeks.
Fortunately, the weather was with us and the work was hearty and pleasant, a great opportunity to practice mindfulness and presence. When I was younger, I hated raking leaves because it seemed like such a tedious, repetitive task. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the hallmarks of the process; simplicity of movement, sounds and scents.
Previously, I had conveniently been opposed to the idea of raking leaves. Ed Sattler, who was my beloved environmental science teacher at Warwick High School, once told me that it’s good to allow the leaves to remain on the ground as they provide a place for insects to live and they create a better overall soil as they decompose. I certainly enjoyed citing that to my father when he tasked me to rake up the leaves as a teenager! And who could argue with Mr. Sattler on environmental topics? Coincidentally, On the Bend directly neighbors Mr. Sattler’s former home and I fantasize about if he still lived there shaking a finger at me as I spend countless hours raking leaves. I’ll have to call him and ask if he rakes the leaves on his new property in the village.
As much as I would love to leave all the leaves be, when you’re trying to have a nice lawn and formal gardens without pesticides, a million mass of leaves can hurt delicate plantings if they cover them too much and choke them out. And of course, with the question of ticks, I’ve found it’s best to get the leaves away from the surroundings of the house. Alas, I’ve jettisoned my “let it be” attitude with the leaves and grit my teeth, rake them up and haul them up a hill to the compost. As I mused about how arduous the process is, Kory remarked that perhaps raking the leaves is the debt we owe to the trees for providing us with free oxygen and shade.
It made me consider the cycle of life, death and re-birth as not just a fact of life, but a symbolic gesture. To everything there is a season, the riotous party of autumn must be cleaned up. And as we’re left with the labor of hauling all the splendor away, we are secure in the knowledge it will all foliate again soon. Drat!