grumpy about the autumn leaves

This time of year, the streets in our neighborhood are lined with leaves. People rake them into long piles roadside, and then a big vacuum cleaner truck trundles by every couple of weeks to hose them up. Of course, if you do the piling prematurely, and if a big wind comes before the big truck, the leaves mostly re-scatter. In the case of the home across the street, every year they re-scatter all over my front yard. Because the universe is what it is, this invariably happens after Anthony and I have already raked our yard clean. So we get to do it again.

I’ve never understood giving leaves away to the city. We pile all our raking leaves into one big heap in the back yard for the kids to play in. You should see Madeline — our six-pound, 10-inch-tall poodle — leap into a big leaf pile. She sprints down the slope of our yard like a tiny cheetah and catapults herself into the air, legs stretched out to infinity, reaching heights of at least 4 feet and flying 6 feet forward before she dives into the leaves. It’s an amazing display of both the physical power and the playful spirit of dogs. In shrink-a-dink miniature. One of the kids is usually flying along beside Madeline, and the amount of simple joy oozing from their little bodies is enough to make even grumpy Carla laugh and laugh for sheer pleasure. At some point before snow covers everything we move all the leaves into the woods, onto a random low spot where they compost and become rich leaf mold. We let it lie to soak up rains and enrich the woods, and sometimes we dig some out to use in our gardening.

I suppose I’m not grumpy about the extra leaves blowing over from our neighbor’s yard. It just always seems to be ill-timed. Why can’t the neighbor’s leaves just get about the business of falling and getting cleaned up and then blown over to our yard before Anthony and I do our own raking? Her trees are very thoughtless.

This morning I took Madeline for a walk first thing in the morning. It was frigid and still, without a lick of wind, and frost was still decorating the world. I wandered down to the end of the street and looked up to find a magnificent, giant maple tree still wearing its foliage. The houses and road were in the shadows of early morning, but the sun had risen just high enough to light the tree’s tall limbs; its golden leaves sparkled like a queen’s crown. As I stared, I noticed leaves were falling. Falling falling falling like golden snow, without any cause except that it was their time. The yard under the tree was covered in a golden carpet of leaves. I walked over and stood on the carpet, and I looked up for a few moments to watch the leaves fall around me, trying (unsuccessfully) to catch with my eye the moment when a single leaf let go of its branch to drift down to its ending. It was magic.

But after the initial shock of beauty, I pictured the owner raking those leaves curbside so they could blow all over the neighborhood. Or better yet, the owner might hire a landscaper to use a leaf blower and triple-wide mower, polluting the air with the stench of gas and the noise of motors. That’s how they roll in my neighborhood.

Having my mind move in this grumpy direction made me feel a little irritated with myself. Good thing our neighbor Pete came by just then, walking his own dog. We chattered a bit about the beautiful leaves, and before I piped up with my own cynicism, Pete pointed out that pretty soon the owner would come out and see those leaves and just be pissed off about all the raking he needs to do now.

I felt so much better. Nobody really wants to be alone in their grumpy.