For weeks, my wife and I have been tracking botanical detritus into our house. Wherever we walk, there’s a crunch, crunch, crunch underfoot. It’s not an unpleasant sound, in and of itself, but I find myself always checking to make sure I haven’t stepped on some unusually crispy bug – or the cat.
So today, for the first time in my life, I began raking a front yard full of leaves. Growing up in New Yawk, I never had to do that. Magical powers (namely, the super) always made sure to keep the sidewalk in front of the building footloose and leaf-free. During my exile in Florida, no one had to rake because, as I’ve told you, there’s no Fall there. The few leaves that do drift down to the ground can be picked up by hand, or left for dead to become mulch. Actually, in Florida, everything becomes mulch if you leave it around in the sun long enough.
My understanding of raking comes from three sources: (1) paintings by the Great Masters, in which the rakers are young women, seemingly happy, communing with Nature as they gather the hay; (2) 50s sitcoms, in which kids had to do their chores – outdoors!; and (3) one of the great all-time sappy songs, “The Autumn Leaves,” particularly the instrumental rendition by Roger Williams, in which you can actually hear the leaves pianistically drifting by the window. Nobody – not Van Gogh, not Opie, and certainly not Roger Williams – ever complained about the crackling noise as they walked from the foyer to the bathroom.
Anyway, here in Kentucky, it seems as if every leaf in the universe has found its way to my house. Most of them are not red and gold, as the song would have it; they’re just kind of a crinkly dead-looking brownish yellow. They certainly don’t remind me of summer kisses, because I’ve never dated a zombie in any season.
But I figured: Hey, if that young Winslow Homer girl can do it, and if that all-time screw-up, the Beave, can do it, I ought to find it pretty easy.
Ha. I guess Bruegel’s women and Nat King Cole didn’t have allergies. Bud Anderson couldn’t beg off raking because it would make him sneeze; his father knew better. In fact, in my entire leaf experience, I never heard of anyone getting a runny nose while he or she raked around the house. Perhaps Edith Piaf sniffled a little when she sang “les feuilles mortes,” but I can’t tell for sure because I don’t know the French word for “ah-choo.” (I’m guessing that there is no French word for such a bourgeois expression. After all, it has nothing to do with cheese.)
Today is a pretty nice Fall day, comfortably cool, but I actually worked up a sweat. In about three minutes. The perspiration dripping into my already itchy eyes, combined with my sneezing and a developing blister on my left thumb, did not make for a happy me. Suddenly, I knew why Brueghel, Rubens, Van Gogh, and Winslow Homer depicted females doing the raking; they, themselves, didn’t want the job. I’m not saying that they felt such a chore was beneath them – although where else would the leaves be? I’m just pointing out that they probably used their artistic ability as an excuse: “Look, you ladies rake, and I’ll paint a beautiful sofa-sized picture. OK?”
My wife – Kentucky native that she is – is an old hand at raking. She was too smart to fall for that artist baloney, maybe because I’ve never painted a picture in my life. But she did give me some advice: “You’re holding the rake backwards. Don’t push the leaves with it; pull them. Gather them into piles. It’s a waste of time stopping to shape the piles into perfect pyramids. Don’t forget to go under the bushes and all around the plants. And check behind your ears, while you’re at it. Try not to break the rake on the stone walkway in the garden. Or under your foot. Why don’t you have any Kleenex with you? Am I gonna have to get you a surgical mask, for crying out loud?”
When there are sufficient piles all over the yard, I’m supposed to rake them down to the curb, where the city promises to do something with them. I’m hoping that the town of Lexington is going to collect all those dead leaves and mail them to Roger Williams.