Sunday, November 05, 2006


Autumn leaves have always held magic for me; a remarkable, delicate finger painting done by angels on nature’s grandest monuments. The trees tell a story of beginnings and endings and beginning again. Autumn’s colors and crisp breezes have always announced fresh starts to me: new teachers, new outfits, new notebooks and new relationships.

Autumn leaves mark the beginning of a season of sweaters and football games; fires in fireplaces inviting families to cluster with warm apple cider. The leaves appeal to almost every one of my senses. Breathtaking brilliance, orange and red, illuminates the tapestry of my neighborhood. I love the way they smell and the sound and feel of them crunching beneath my feet and swirling under the car; my very favorite time of year.

Ten years ago, I discovered a different view of autumn. As former condominium dwellers, Brad and I became homeowners and I was delighted when my new lawn was sprinkled with crunchy auburn and amber. I was soon to learn that homeownership was a right of passage into an annual game of chess with Mother Nature. The fall leaves are her invitation to the game.

As our new lawn was littered with my beloved autumn leaves, I became aware that as lovely as they looked, they indeed would have to be picked up and removed. Novice to the game, we watched our neighbors, young and old, begin to move their pawns.

The first decision is when to begin to play and then which techniques to employ.
Carlo, a 75 year-old man from Italy makes his first move in early October as the first ten or twenty leaves hit the ground. We chuckle fondly at the people we know, my father included, who think they can stay one step ahead of Mother Nature by dancing close beside her. This approach was much too aggressive for us. Silly to do the same job over and over again; cleverer to wait for them all to fall and clean up in one fell swoop. It seemed logical.

As our first autumn fell into full swing, we begin to feel the eyes of the elders in the neighborhood watching, wondering if we were aware of our responsibilities; no doubt worrying that we intended to turn our entire property into a compost pile. Perhaps waiting until the bitter end, though logical, was not socially acceptable.

We decide the time was right to begin and opted for the “family style” approach; playful quality time with our children, at one with nature. Whistle while you work. A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. We would spend the weekend making light of the task; it would be fun! We prepared to make our first move. Mother Nature was ready.

Weekend after weekend she whipped up storms of monsoon proportion. Winds howled and rains pounded and I was certain I could see her laughing in the image I remember from the old margarine commercial; Don’t Fool with Mother Nature! We watched as layer upon layer of wet leaves added to our growing compost pile. The weekend family plan was not working out.

Determined not to be defeated, I decided to handle this woman to woman and on the first sunny day, I went head to head, equipped with the most sophisticated tool that homeowner lawn care had to offer… my very own leaf blower. In a matter of minutes, I acquired a knack for the “power tool” and immediately wondered what all the fuss was about. It was surely easier than vacuuming, absolutely more fun and it only had to be done once a year. Piece of cake!

The cake crumbled at the edges, however as I approached the southern boundary of our property. Until that moment, I felt relief knowing the elders watched with approval and I held my blower with confidence. Uncertainty crept in as I walked the property line, blowing my yard clean and leaving the leaves on their side. I looked at my feet and realized that the leaves I was blowing were from my obtrusive red maple whose leaves covered a large area of my neighbor’s front yard. Feeling responsible and neighborly, I backed myself, blower ready, into her yard to blow my leaves home where they belonged. Surly I was winning aged approval and when my leaves began to commingle with those from her trees, I retreated back into my own territory.

At days end, Trevor rubs the sleep off his three year old face and beams with delight as we venture out into my giant gathering of leaves. Tyler bounds off the school bus, wild energy racing through him as he tosses backpack and body into the crunchy blanket. The boys are more than eager to rake and in a short while, two amazing piles are the icing on the cake. Darkness approaches, husband arrives and satisfaction fills me.

“High winds and heavy rain by morning…” the weather man grins; Mother Nature’s messenger. “Check!” My husband and eldest son scramble for the leaf bags, racing into the dark to meet her challenge. Mission accomplished, they retreat into the warmth of the house, hot chocolate and homeownership duly admired.

Later, with little ones nestled under the covers, we retire to our bedroom exhausted; the good kind of spent that comes from hard work. The wind whistles as Mother Nature keeps her promise but, no worries, the leaves are done. One last glance outside to admire our efforts, I notice the wind is coming from the north and there, in our northern neighbor’s yard stands and enormous oak dwarfing my red maple. The oak had just dropped its leaves and one by one, they tumble to our yard.

Madness creeps into my head and I contemplate standing on the boundary with my blower, holding back the enemy at the front line. I wish for the rains to come to hold the crunchy little monsters in place, but dry and airy they tumble. Feeling defeated, I succumb to the tired in me and crawl into bed. My wish is granted during my slumber. The rains come, firmly embedding the layer of oak leaves in place; in my front yard. “Check Mate,” I hear her say.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

Love the ending, Nancy!

Terry Whitaker said...

So so beautifully written and so incredibly TRUE!