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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mindless Work…

Tony in the Fallit is, raking leaves. Like riding a bicycle: once you learn, you never forget. You select a certain area of lawn and move in a circular pattern, clockwise, surround the leaves, sweep them inward. With each revolution the circle shrinks, the leaves pile up. The rake performs a rhythmic scratching. Your body dips and sways, a clumsy ballet among the leaves. The work involves only shoulders, arms, extending and pulling incessantly; while your body is thus occupied, your thoughts, however, are free to wander.

What do I think about while the rake scratches up the fallen leaves? The rhythmic swing of the rake, its repetition. The simplicity of the routine brings to mind the character Konstantin Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and the image of the serf-sympathetic Levin waist deep in his own hayfield, swinging a scythe and leaving in its wake swath after swath of new mown hay.

And then there are the leaf thoughts:

I think of the young girl Margaret in the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall,” who grieves the loss of the summer leaves from Goldengrove. The poet tells her it’s not so much the dying leaves she mourns as “the blight man was born for,” her own mortality.

That brilliant fall of my first year of teaching in Winthrop: I think of cottonwood yellow lining the Chewuck River, their reflections like roiling gold in the cobalt waves. And how, too, like gold flecks the fallen leaves rode the currents and eddies until the banks were rimmed in yellow. I look to the looming mountain slopes where groves of quivering poplar are brilliant yellow swatches among the dark firs.

asparagus mulchI think about the heaps of leaves I’ll fork on the dahlia bed, a leafy comforter against the frost, nourishment for the soil, a cover of mulch for the dormant asparagus…winter forage for hungry earthworms.

I think how the next six months the walnut tree and the backyard maple will be bare against the sky, and how much improved my view of the Valley will be once the nursery stock to the west has shed its leaves, how once again I’ll be able to see Tony’s house, Ed’s barn and soon his Christmas lights.

And I wonder what’s on my grandson’s mind as he happens upon the heap of leaves I’ve carefully raked into a pile. Rakin' buddy

Just as I thought…a puddle to splash in, a pile of leaves to pounce on…ah, the sweet life of a child.had to do it

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