The Annual Leaf-Thing

The annual leaf-thing is upon us again

I spent an hour out in the side yard, raking up mounds of maple leaves, sweeping them into the big tarp, and taking them out back for Mother Nature to deal with. As I raked, I remembered years past: the early years when we had big leaf fires (we don't do that any more--too hard on the environment), later years when the kids insisted on doing the appropriate kidly thing and taking huge running jumps into the piles. I also remember my endless anxiety because I couldn't get the yard completely clean. I was measuring myself by my impossibly neat neighbour's standards. She had one small tree to deal with; I had three huge maples. I couldn't possibly keep my yard as neat as she kept hers.

But now she's moved, and I've changed. In middle age, I've begun to realize that the important thing is that I can see the lawn, not that I get every single leaf tucked away. Revelation: it's my yard, and if I don't feel like raking up every single leaf, that's my choice. Nyahh to all who say otherwise. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be reasonably raked.

This all (through one of those mental sideway skews that bless and afflict me) reminded me somehow of a discussion I'd had with a friend, a woman who leads a Bible study group. One of the members of the group has been going on and on about what happens to a person after death. His denomination has strong views on the subject, as on just about all subjects, and so far as he's concerned, either you Believe or you are Damned. In his view, God is someone waiting to get you if you stray one step off the strait and narrow path. Salvation is a tenuous matter; it has to be earned by scrupulously good behaviour, and it can very easily disappear on you if you set a foot amiss. The Bible is literally word-for-word true, because if one syllable isn't absolute literal truth, the whole thing goes out the window. I'd hate to have this man checking out my yard, I can assure you, because if there's one leaf out of place, I am in deep trouble.

But "strait and narrow" doesn't necessarily mean "boobytrapped." "This isn't always going to be easy" isn't the same thing as "I'm out to getcha for the least misstep." "Strait and narrow" means simply that you're going to have to strip off some stuff to get through this gate because some baggage, through its bulk or weight, holds you back from the Journey. Things like your pride, for example, or your desire for more material goodies, or your need to feel superior to others, or your secret belief that the way through to bliss is sex or chocolate or good red wine. Sometimes what we need to lay down is a good thing gone haywire: the need for security, for example. If we are in God's hand, what need to we have to fear? Isn't fear a failure to believe in God's love? To find my way towards God, I had to strip off my anxiety, my perfectionism. I had to strip off needing to please my neighbour and being frightened of her ill opinion. I had to let the maple leaves fly and accept that I can't control them, for the wind will take them where it wills. And then, when I had laid this baggage down, I could finally be free to turn my attention Godward.

The neighbourhood's changed; people seem to be a little less spastic about their yards now. The drought last summer, the ice storm four years ago (almost), the growing realization that lawn chemicals are not a Good Thing--all these together have knocked some common sense into our collective heads. Even those who reached their prime in the '50s when a disorderly lawn was a statement about your moral character, have come to believe that there are more important matters to worry about. What does it matter if a few maple leaves lurk around the joint? They mulch the soil, enriching it. They'll rot in time. It's not a big deal any more.

There were whole years back there, when I didn't get the leaves raked at all because life was Being Like That too much, and strangely, come the spring, I found it didn't make any difference. Winter had taken care of the matter for me. Of course perfection is best, but I've come to believe that a yard rough-raked in joy and to the glory of the Lord is better than a leaf-free yard raked in fear of what the neighbours might think. If I get five tarploads cleared this morning and find in them a piece of prose for the weekend, then I'm doing well enough.

And having let go of this worry, I can enjoy the leaves and the beauty of the morning, blue as only an October sky can be. I can take a long leaning-on-the-rake moment to appreciate the sight of my black cat, asleep in a drift of leaves, ebony on gold. I can flick a small rakeful of leaves into the wind and over the crouched tortoiseshell grrrl-cat, who leaps and pounces on them. I can delight in the soft, fine green of the grass I uncover. I can watch leaves twirl down into the vacant lot next door, which nobody wants anyway. I can praise God in this morning, because I've set my fear-filled perfectionism down, leaving the burden at the strait and narrow gate: here, Lord, you take it. And I can give belated thanksgivings for all the blessings I used to turn my back on; and I can apologize to my God for having so doubted his mercy.

I can take each tarpload back and let it fly over the back wall, not getting my knickers in a knot about getting the lawn perfectly clean...

...because after all, most of the leaves are still up there, on the trees....

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Fri, 19 Oct 2001
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