Raking Leaves

The winds that brought in a cold front a couple of days ago also brought down almost all the leaves hanging on to our two Norway maples. Norway maples – Acer platanoides – have, as their scientific name indicates – huge, plate-like leaves, and they don’t decompose easily. I have a couple of choices – I can rake them onto a tarp, and move them to the edge of the maple swamp behind us, in a (useless) attempt to smother the goutweed that someone planted there, long before our tenure in this house. Or I can mulch them into small fragments, and leave them to enrich the lawn. Burning isn’t an option – that requires a burn permit (if you’re at all law-abiding, anyhow) – and on our small property there is nowhere that meets the criteria.

I choose to mulch them into the lawn with the electric lawnmower. But first I have to rake them away from the porch, and the shrubs, and the garage doors where the wind has pushed them. It’s a cool last day of October, and this is just the right thing to be doing. Last year I was still on post-surgery restrictions, and the years before that I was working, gone from the house from dark to dark, and it seemed to rain every weekend. So for some years a landscape service has taken care of our leaves. But this year, it’s all mine, and I’m reveling in it.

I rake the leaves onto the front and side lawns into more-or-less even drifts, and plug in the mower. I start with the mower set at 3 1/2 inches, and go over the leaves, dropping the mower height down as the leaves are chopped. Across the road, a neighbour with a much larger property is burning hers: the smell takes me back to childhood, when we all burned leaves: the scent of fall.

It takes me about an hour and half to do the front and side lawns, clean the mower, sweep bits off the driveway and the walks. The leaves have been reduced to tiny fragments that will decompose easily, returning their nutrients to the soil, feeding earthworms and micro-flora, strengthening the grass and clover that make up our lawn.

There is something that just feels right about taking care of what we own ourselves, instead of paying a service to do it. I draw the line at the highly specialized or dangerous (BD and I are having a debate about our very tall chimney, which needs repointing. I think it’s too tall for him to do; he thinks otherwise. I point out we only re-shingled the one-storey additions and the garage ourselves, summer jobs, and left the high roof of our three-storey house to the professionals. And the chimney is higher than that roof. He’s ‘thinking about it’.) But raking leaves, cutting the grass, pruning…and inside, cleaning, painting, repairing….I like doing these, and they connect me to my house and my garden. I prefer to be a steward, with all the responsibility that implies, than a occupant, leaving the responsibility to others. Too often, in our working days, we felt more like occupants, renting services to keep the place going.

It rained heavily last night, so I can’t mulch more leaves today. I’ve still got twice as much to do – the other side lawn and the back, the the leaves from one Norway maple and a host of other, smaller-leaved trees – but that’s ok. The weather is promising to be warm all this coming week (unseasonably so, actually) and I have the time now. I’ll wave at neighbours, chat over the fence, watch the chickadees completely ignore me as they go back and forth to the feeders. What better way to spend a sunny, early November day?

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