• Otter Views: November Leaves

    by Tom Stevens

    The sunlight grows thinner, the afternoons shorter, and suddenly it’s mid-November again. Time to break out the rakes.

    Dedicated rakers greet the season’s first leaf fall much as skiers greet the first snow. Standing amid the softly fluttering bounty, we turn grateful eyes skyward. Inhaling the fresh cool sharpness of the air, we feel an invigorating surge of purposefulness. This is our time. This is our season. Once again, we are validated.

    And once again, we forget why it’s called “fall.”

    Having spent most of my life in non-deciduous zones, I’m particularly susceptible to the “okay, I’m done now” fallacy of raking. That is, once you rake up the leaves or flowers, they’re supposed to stay raked up for another week.

    In that non-deciduous world, you can stand proudly beside the brimming yard bins you have just filled. You can gaze confidently over a pristine, leaf-free terrain of your own making. You can slap your gloves together and walk away, knowing you have done a fine job of work.

    The deciduous world plays by other rules. Here, in the time it takes to slap your gloves together, new leaves will have fallen. These “stealth leaves” will carpet your work site so swiftly that passersby may justifiably wonder if you were ever there at all.

    Instead of feeling fulfilled, you may feel diminished, like one of those miniature figures in a swirling snow globe. Only this is a swirling leaf globe. It can be humbling.

    It can also be inspiring. Or at least, the November part of it can. Like new snow, November’s leaves are vivid, clean and untrodden. Out in the valleys behind the coast, ornamental maples glitter and shimmer in the autumn breeze like the jeweled gowns of Hollywood starlets. Green, yellow, gold, red, orange and purple share the same tree. As the leaves fall, the sidewalks beneath the trees form a crimson runway.

    For deciduous leaf rakers, this is as good as it gets. The leaves are still dry and fluffy, faintly fragrant, brilliantly colored. They are so beautiful that raking them confers an almost curatorial dignity. You think: “This must be how artists feel as they assemble their stained glass pieces, their mosaic tiles, their dabs of color.” In November, raking can be aesthetic.

    It can also be fashionable. Right now, while the earth is still dry and the skies are still blue; while the leaves are freshly-fallen, crisp and compliant; now is the time to model those handsome autumnal outfits from the catalogues of L.L. Bean, Land’s End and The Territory Ahead.

    As a denizen of a non-deciduous world too humid for such layered outdoor wear, I always envied those wide wale corduroyed, Aran-sweatered, canvas-jacketed, elbow-patched figures in the catalogues. Garbed in the rich earth tones and gem-like hues of autumn, they leaned stylishly on their rakes as happy children and golden retrievers dashed through head-high drifts of leaves.

    Older and wiser now, I realize the models could only look this good because it never rains in catalogues. In the fall and winter issues, you might see snow dusting a square-jawed man in a checkered wool jacket or a svelte woman in a tasseled hat and fur-lined boots. Nearby, the kids and retrievers romp adorably through sunlit fresh powder. But rain? Forget it.

    Put bluntly, rain is fashion kryptonite. Once the rainy season sets in, it would be the height of folly to rake leaves while wearing tasseled loafers, a lamb’s wool sweater and a buckskin jacket. No, you’ll want serious, splash-resistant foul weather gear. Yellow rubber rain slickers. Yellow rain pants. Yellow rain hats. And ugly, functional, black rubber gumboots. In the rain, ugly is beautiful.

    Leaf_rake_and_autumn_leaves_1wikimediaI also fault the autumn fashion catalogues for spreading disinformation about leaf pile jumping. Having viewed those fanciful images all through childhood, I looked forward to jumping into a leaf pile myself. That long-awaited opportunity finally arose when I went to New England to start college at a campus thickly wooded with deciduous trees.

    Once the leaf fall began in earnest, the college grounds crews fired up Zamboni-like vehicles that swept the leaves into head-high piles. Spotting one of these deep mounds, I sprinted up to it full-tilt and leaped into the air. A millisecond later, I butt-slammed to the ground with a painful new understanding of how quickly dry leaves compress beneath a falling body.

    But let’s not go there. Instead, let’s greet November’s leaves with the respect and enthusiasm they deserve. Because we respect the beauty of fallen leaves and the autumnal soul-searching they kindle, we do not defile the season with Zambonis and leaf blowers. And because we don’t want to don rain slickers just yet, we celebrate these last few, clear blue, fine dry days of raking.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 14, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views


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