Raking leaves might sound like a chore, but it’s something I secretly
love to do. Like all yard work, it’s a way of interacting with your
very own little piece of nature. A kind of dialogue, if you’re
imaginative and your heart yearns toward outdoor things. A conversation
that involves trees and squirrels and breezes and watching the clouds
while you’re working.
Last week’s weather, you remember, was sunny and warm and October-like
— and it was hard for everybody who loves the outdoors to have to stay
inside of four walls during the short daylight hours.
The weekend weather was an Indian summer gift, so I grabbed the chance
to get outside as soon as I could. Doyle was tied down doing teaching
chores, but I enlisted Hagrid, our Great Dane, to be my yard-work
companion. Wearing my favorite baggy hiking pants and comfortable
boots, I headed outside, with Hagrid racing in happy circles. I grabbed
my gloves and rake and clippers, and got to work.
There’s just something soothing about raking leaves, to me, because it
means being outside in the healing fresh air and sunshine.
Raking, like mowing, is satisfying because you can see that what you’re
doing is making a difference. When all the maple leaves were freshly
fallen, three weeks ago or so, our front yard looked like it was awash
in gold, but last weekend, the yard just looked dreary and unkempt,
with a tattered coat of ragged brown leaves that had seen better days.
As I raked, the uncovered grass looked fresh and green, in its last
spurt of growth before the inevitable freeze finally browns it for the
Raking is a way of making friends with every nook and cranny of your
yard. When you rake, you discover every low place and every slight
slope, every new volunteer privet bush, every dandelion. I had to turn
my rake sideways to scrape dried leaves out of their snug little
crevices between the roots of big trees, like the elm that towers next
to the driveway and the regal maple that presides over the front yard.
I raked leaves out from their hiding places under the spireas next to
the alley, and brushed them off the tops of the yews in the front beds.
My rake snagged in Virginia creeper around the trunk of the elm tree,
and in the lowest branches of the forsythia. I raked around the baby
azaleas I planted last winter, my first gardener’s mark on Squirrels’
Leap, and around my confetti lantana, still blooming at almost
I raked elm leaves from around the dying hostas, and gently nudged them
from the pansies that border the walkway to the side door. I raked dead
leaves from the base of the yellow climbing roses and fading hyacinth
bean vines we planted to grow up the pergola — the one that Doyle
rebuilt after it was smashed during January’s ice storm — and from
around the still-green native fern that’s nestled next to
lipstick-colored impatiens, still valiantly blooming their pretty
little heads off.
Our first year at Squirrels’ Leap has come full circle. It was almost
exactly a year ago that we first looked at the house, when the
neglected yard was covered in dead leaves, and overgrown vines tangled
in scraggly bare shrubs. As we walked around the property then, we
discovered the naked rose by the driveway, and spotted the
winter-stripped forsythias — and wished for azaleas. We imagined what
the stark maples would look like in October, and dreamed of an April
bride’s dress on our very own dogwood tree.
Over this last year, we’ve begun making our yard our own. I’ve trimmed
and cleaned up and pulled vines and raked and pruned, trying to bring
out the best in the pretty growing things that somebody else planted
with love in this yard years ago.
And Doyle and I have made our own mark already. There are azaleas at
Squirrels’ Leap now — because this Mississippi girl had to have
azaleas. And on the north side of the house, the row of hydrangeas I
had dreamed of — like so many pretty old homes back home have — has
been planted and lovingly tended since last spring, and those big old
purply-blue and pink blossoms delighted us all summer, and can still be
found, dried, in pitchers and bowls all over our house.
We’ve had our sweet Dogwood April, and our longed-for Maple October at Squirrels’ Leap. And they were good.
I enjoyed raking leaves. It was good to visit with my plants, to tuck
pine needles around the little azaleas, to watch the fat squirrels jump
from tree to tree, and to laugh at Hagrid plopping his big self down in
the piles of leaves like a little kid, grinning his happy doggy grin.
Simple outdoor pleasures. Soul-soothers.
By Celia DeWoody
Published Nov. 18, 2009, Harrison (Ark.) Daily Times
Copyright 2009 Neighbor Newspapers, Inc.