Autumn is a favorite season for many people. Grown-up people. People who appreciate the change brought on by the September equinox, resulting from the yearly revolution of the earth around the sun and the tilt of the earth's axis relative to the revolution. I'm excluded from this group.
Actually, that's not true. There are things I appreciate about fall. I appreciate that my toes are now covered up, so I can stop fretting about how terrible my toenails look because I'm too lazy to paint them and too cheap to get a pedicure. I appreciate that the library is quiet again because all the kids are back in school. And of course, I appreciate the changing landscape, when the trees show off their vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. Once the leaves fall off the trees, though, that's when the appreciation ends and the aggravation begins.
We live on a one-acre lot. Given my urban upbringing, I'd always associated the measurement "acre" with farmland, certainly not yard. When we first looked at our home and I was told the house stood on an acre-sized lot, I looked out the window, expecting to see livestock lumber by. To my husband, an acre is nothing. He grew up in the country, and hopes one day to have the kind of land he grew up on: acre upon acre of rolling hills, ponds, trees, deer, and unshaven men carrying hatchets and riding ATVs and snowmobiles. I can't wait.
Well, B might have to wait for the acerage, but he didn't have to wait to get his trees. He was blessed with about 100 of them, and what seems to be their perpetual leaf production. The trees provide shade in the summer, beauty and interest in the winter, and in between, they provide nothing but drudergy. If we didn't do anything about the falling leaves, they'd be waist high by October 10. By Halloween, we'd lose our children when they went into the yard. By Thanksgiving, you'd be hard-pressed to find our house. It's best if we stay on top of the leaf situation.
Years ago, B would spend countless hours taking care of the yard in the fall. He had an elaborate system of moving leaves onto tarps and dragging the tarps to the curb, depositing the leaves for the city to pick up. He'd come in the house when it got dark, cheeks flushed, smelling of fall. "That's a lot of work," I'd say. "Are you sure you don't need help?" He'd wave me off. "Of course not!" he'd say. He took a great amount of pride in the leaf job being his, and his alone. Most of our neighbors hired out their leaf removal, but not us. As the gargantuan piles of leaves grew bigger every day, people would stop and ask, Who did all this? Who did you hire? No one, B would say. I did it all myself.
Eleven years later, B's day job is much more demanding, leaving less time for him to be in his beloved yard. I bought him a leaf blower for his 30th birthday ("The best gift you ever got me!"), but even that high-powered piece of equipment can't keep up with the torrent of leaves. So this year, because I'm home during the day, I had no choice but to take over the leaf job myself. This idea made B nervous.
"Now, do you know what to do?" he asked me.
"Do I know what to do?" I asked. "I rake the leaves onto a tarp and drag them to the curb."
"Yes, but do you know the system?" He took my arm and guided me to the window. The same window I had looked out 11 years ago, expecting to see cattle. "You have to start over there, under those shrubs. Use a hard rake to get the leaves out from under there. Do you know what a hard rake is?" I looked at my husband. I realized at that moment that he thinks I'm an imbecile. I turned away, grabbed my coat and went outside. And I didn't come in for a week, except to cook dinner and put my children to bed.
People took notice. They're not used to seeing me outside for extended periods when the temperature dips below 70. And the fact that I was doing yard work made people wonder if my husband had died. They were relieved when they'd see B arrive home from work. And when he went outside to survey my progress, neighbors would corner him. "Did you know your wife was out here? Raking? She even used a hard rake!"
Day after day I'd head outside to tackle another section of the yard. I wore the same clothes every day to conserve laundry, even the day after it rained, when I was covered in mud. The next morning, when I walked into the kitchen, my children looked at me and then looked down at the trail of dirt I was leaving. Bravely, Sam asked, "Uh, Mom? Are you going to change clothes sometime?" This from the boy who once suggested he bathe only at the new moon each month. Sam decided to rescind his question after I told him to do some laundry so that I'd have some clothes to change into.
The leaf job would have been quicker if I'd been able to use B's leaf blower, but I was strictly forbidden to touch it. And I really couldn't argue. B's tired of repairing or replacing equipment that I've broken. The can opener wasn't so bad, but it was kind of expensive to replace the lawn mower after I pushed it over a tree stump. When I crashed our riding lawn mower into a tree, I was cut off from using any electrical device other than the coffee maker.
So I raked. And raked. And raked. I filled up countless tarps with leaves and dragged them to the curb, creating piles as high as I'm tall. Once, I stopped to look at my progress. I looked at the part of the yard I'd raked, and I thought, Wow! Look how how far I've gotten! And look how nice and clear it looks! Then I turned and looked at the remaining nine-tenths of the yard that I hadn't touched. And I cried.
But I got through it. And I had a lot of time to think. One day I thought about the time in second grade when my teacher, Mrs. Wooldrick, posed the question, "What's your favorite season?" My classmates shouted out the predictable "Summer!" and "Winter!" But I knew that would do nothing for Mrs. Wooldrick, and I wanted her approval. I knew a woman of her age, which I gauged to be just under 100, would be enchanted by the falling leaves in autumn. I also knew that I'd sound much more sophisticated if I didn't call it fall. So I proudly responded "Autumn!" And just as I predicted, Mrs. Woodrick's wrinkly face lit up, and she said, "Why Sara, autumn is MY favorite season ALSO!" I basked in the glow of her approval, even though I knew it was wrong to lie and I knew I'd have to go along with the charade that I liked fall for as long as I knew Mrs. Wooldrick. (Or for as long as she lived.)
I'm older and wiser now, so I'll admit it: autumn is not my favorite season. My favorite season is any season but autumn. And if you don't approve, well, then, I have a hard rake with your name on it.