Leave the Leaves


One disadvantage of living in south Florida is that we don’t have a single beautiful autumn leaf down here. Our palm fronds turn brown and fall off, but unlike the delicate leaves of the North, they tend to crash to the ground, taking downspouts with them, cracking flower pots, and hurting small pets.

I don’t know what the third-grade fall art project is around here, but it sure doesn’t involve wax paper, a hot iron, and whatever is lying on the ground outside your back door.

As much as I miss autumn in the North (and I do so miss it. I have nowhere to wear most of the better clothes I’ve purchased over the past 20 years),  the advantage is that I don’t have to rake those beautiful leaves when they turn brown and crispy and smell like sour cheese.

We didn’t always live in Florida, so I have some experience with dealing with leaves. Not as much experience as my two sons, who had to single-handedly take care of a half-acre of leaf-covered yard one year when we lived in a wooded lot in the mountains of northern New Jersey. They were on their own because my husband had a severe allergic reaction, his face got all blown up and he was covered in red welts. I was so grossed out by him, I had to go inside and watch TV and drink wine.

Leaf raking has got to be one of the more evolutionary stunted tasks that humans do. Who ever thought up the idea that we were supposed to rake them off the grass? If thousands of years ago, people had just let the leaves sit there, I’m sure the grass would have developed an immunity to the smothering effects and maybe even would have learned to emit some kind of acid that would melt them away. And if not, then we could conclude that God doesn’t want us to have neatly manicured lawns after all.

But no, somebody had the idea that we should screw with nature and remove fallen leaves shortly after they fell, saving our grass so that it could be later covered in snow, which is never shoveled off of the grass. Right.

We’ve lived on several properties that had lots of old trees. But as much as I tried, I could never figure out an efficient way to rid a large yard of millions of leaves. In a large scale operation like that, there should be a grand-scheme way to deal with it. Something you could work out with charts, a ruler and a calculator over cocoa in the kitchen, like engineers do, and then go out and execute it without getting too cold, sore or blistery.

We tried leaf blowers, lawn mowers, 5+ rakes and rakers. We tried blowing them from one side of the yard to the woods on the other side. About halfway across the yard, the leaves formed a 5-foot-high wall that just kept getting bigger and harder to move, the closer we’d get to the woods. We tried raking them onto big tarps and bed sheets, which we would then drag to the woods. We tried bagging them in the city-issued biodegradable bags and putting them at the curb. We worked in small areas at a time and then tried working the entire yard at once.

All of these methods were both successful, in that the leaves did end up being removed from the yard eventually, and unsuccessful, in that the process was so painful and inefficient that the tears, fights, scathing accusations among family members, and generally unkind words were not worth saving a lawn. What are those muscles that stretch across the top of your back and go halfway down your arms? Those hurt like a mother, too.

My friend Brigid told me once that she enjoys raking leaves. She said she would pack her kids off to school, her husband off to work and spend an entire day raking. She would actually look forward to having a yard full of leaves to rake. She would not wait until all the leaves were down, either. She would rake them as they fell, so she could repeat the process later, again and again, as the trees got barer and barer. I like Brigid and everything, but I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine wanting to do that. She and I may have the same hair color, but I’m not sure we’re in the same species.

So if you are among my Northern friends who have been griping about leaves this season, know that I sympathize. If enough of you can team up and leave them on your grass and not get kicked out of your homeowners association for having a brown, grassless, compost pile as a front lawn, I’ll support you. From here, underneath my palm fronds.

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