I had no illusions about what one man with a rake can achieve against mid-November leaf fall in North Carolina. Both of my neighbors have leaf blowers, as do my in-laws, who live right across town. They might have let me borrow one, but I'm not interested. There is a satisfaction in doing certain tasks entirely through your own efforts. To me, clearing a lawn of leaves the old-fashioned way—somewhere between deveining your own shrimp and climbing Everest without bottled oxygen—is one of them. A sea of leaves deluged us, and my parents would be visiting in a few days, an event that clearly called for an unimpeded path to the door. I would hold back the inexorable advance.
Sure, I cheated a bit with some trompe l'oeil techniques, allowing the untamed leafy accumulations to encroach like a brown shadow along the borders between our neighbors and us. As dusk neared, the sea had been beaten back into temporary submission. Corners were brightened, and piles were made.
Time for Phase 2, the hauling stage: I amassed a golem-sized heap in the middle of the tarp, folding in the outer edges, burrito-style, and grabbing hold with gloved hands. Assuming a backward crouch, I dragged each lot to the street, repeating about six times. I found this to be good for the quads.
With the last load sprawled in place parallel to the street-side mass, my pile was now about the size of two Mini Coopers. In my peripheral vision, I noted a woman headed toward me on foot. I took hold of the tarp edges and unfurled the tube, adding a touch of English here and there, finessing the contents onto the heap. As she approached, I removed one of my earbuds, just in case she felt like exchanging a few words. She slowed a bit and smiled sympathetically. There I was, brow beaded with perspiration, slightly out of breath, knee deep in the hoopla.
"There's a bit of temporary satisfaction," I said, responding to the question in her eyes. "It's better than waiting till they all fall down."
"But," she managed. She gestured upward at the substantial bounty of brown, clinging foliage that still remained, as if pointing out a critical component I had somehow missed.
A few choice comebacks came to mind. "Because it's there," I thought. "Because it needed doing, that's why." Eventually I arrived upon Sylvia Plath, who apparently once wondered, "What's the point of doing laundry? It'll only get dirty again."
Plath might have wondered if there is any reason to spend an afternoon raking leaves when you could blow them all into a pile in a fraction of the time and without breaking a sweat. Sylvia Plath, it turns out, didn't actually say any of that, but I think she would nevertheless have found raking leaves pointless. She too would have gestured up to the trees.
"Look up," she might say. "It's just going to get dirty again."
"But Sylvia, that doesn't mean you don't do the laundry."
By then, of course, the ghost of Sylvia Plath had continued up the street, and I was still standing in leaves.