The taking tree

By Dan Dunkle | Nov 19, 2010

There are days when I ask myself, “What is the point of a maple tree anyway?”

Sure, it looks pretty enough on a summer day, the bottoms of the leaves radiating as they gather up the sunlight. At the peak of autumn, when the leaves blaze forth in brilliant color, the beauty of it stings your eyes. What more soothing song could there be than the whisper of wind in the leaves, like a multitude of fluttering wings?

But some of the beauty is lost on me when I spend an entire Saturday with a rake in my hand.

Let's think about this process for a minute. The tree spends all this time growing these great broad, green leaves, thousands of little Canadian flags, only to dump every last one of them on my lawn. Then in the spring, it just has to start growing leaves again.

Is this really the most efficient system for running a forest? It's like digging a hole only to fill it back in again.

We all remember reading Shel Silverstein's “The Giving Tree.”

My tree doesn't get it. I'm down there shouting, “Stop giving! I'm all set.” I'm not going to be crying when it's cut down to a stump for me to sit on.

So what happened was, I worked all week at the newspaper, thinking, “Hey, I'm not on duty this weekend! Bring on the fun!” TGIF, right?

Saturday morning, the weather was gorgeous, and it hit me that it was already November and the branches were bare. How many more good days would there be before the snow and ice and bleakness?

I surveyed the yard. Long tangles of unmowed grass like green hair on some giant's skull were covered in places by a thick carpet of dried leaves.

I went out with my rake and my wheelbarrow and began the process.

For a while I was working furiously, making a pile, picking it up, tossing it in the wheelbarrow and rolling it over to the designated pile of crap part of my lawn. I think of this area as “The Great Trash Heap,” like the character from the old kids' show “Fraggle Rock” (I'm required under law at this point to put an obscure '80s reference in every column).

Christine is not happy about The Great Trash Heap. She wants me to get organized and have the leaves ready for the city work crew that reportedly comes around and gets them.

“I'm doing it, so I'll decide how it's done,” I said, diplomatically.

She muttered something about the one time I do something in the yard. So my Saturday was off to an awesome start.

I went back outside and took a look at how it was coming so far. Two small leaf piles down. Eight-hundred-seventy-thousand to go. It was like raking up the national deficit.

It's times like this that every man has to ask himself, “What would Tim the Tool Man do?”

He would say, “More power!”

My theory was that if I put the bag on my mower, I could just vacuum up the leaves. This would be the same mower that stalls out in wet grass that's a few inches too high.

Rather than raking leaves in silence and crisp autumn air, I would grind through it all in a cloud of commotion and gas fumes.

“What are you doing?” Christine called out as I pushed the mower into a massive pile of leaves.

“I know what I'm doing!” I hollered over the engine.

The engine said, “Brrrrup!”, made a screeching sound and died.

“Just a minor setback!” I said as she fixed me with that look of hers.

Contrary to the doubts of doubters, it worked pretty well as long as I was just going over natural leaf cover rather than through a pile. The problem then was that I had to empty the bag every four seconds. Sometimes I would try to get away without emptying it, but the result was a spray of leaf-colored confetti out of the bottom of the mower.

After a mere four hours, most of the yard was done to a level of quality that almost met my wife's standards.

Now the only thing standing between me and my Saturday was taking trash to the dump and doing the bottle returns.

It's gotten so that most of my weekend days are as busy as my workdays. I arrive back at the office on Monday thinking I need another weekend.

Driving by “the grounds” a day or two later, Christine said, “What is that!” about some stray leaves that had crept into my yard.

That's the other fun part about the fall. Even after you clean up your yard, there's nothing to stop a cool wind from kicking up the leaves from a neighbor's lawn and sending them back your way.

“Maybe we're not meant to control our little patch of nature,” I said, philosophically. “Maybe the chaos of leaves is just a part of life.”

She's not buying it, and next year I'll be back out there, building up new blisters and wondering if there's a parallel universe in which trees are forced to work this hard for me.

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