2000 Pulitzer nominee Body, House, Yard, Street

Time to Turn Over New Leaf — or Not

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 9 November 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

I’d like to think I was a normal, tidy homeowner. The neighbors here seem to disagree. You can tell by what they don’t say, those odd silences when our paths cross putting outgoing mail out in the mornings, checking the mailbox in the afternoons. The way they wave and seem to glance at all the leaves in your yard with disdain. Maybe it’s pity.

Our fellow residents here are as critical as the ones we left in Little Rock. They’re nice as can be, but isn’t that for show? Surely I am not paranoid, nor am I feeling guilty about not having begun to rake.

Don’t they know how busy we are?

During the spring and most of the summer — until the drought joyfully dried up our sparse tufts of grass — I mowed my yard within a week of its needing it — a week after it turned shaggy. I edged once, maybe twice.

The leaves began falling three weeks ago. Maybe four. Or five. Six weeks at the most. I think I was waiting for the first frost. That came about a week ago. That caused another bundle to leave our oaks, maples and dogwoods.

This made the azalea bushes nervous. They seem to look through their chirpy little oval leaves up to the bare trees nearby and say, “What do you mean, next?”

The weather in a day jumped back up 30 or 40 degrees: Perfect raking weather, but, of course, I couldn’t take off from my job.

Then the first weekend after the first frost arrived.

We luxuriantly loafed Saturday, but Sunday the guilt began about noon. Cars drove by, and people pointed. Or may have pointed. Car windows are so deeply tinted these days, who knows? You have to use your imagination.

So I then read the three local newspapers. Finally, I got out the rakes, gloves, a tarp to rake leaves onto and the electric leaf-blower-slash-vacuum-mulcher.

I didn’t want to bag unshredded leaves and leave them on the curb for the city crews to pick up. We compost for an organic yard and garden beds.

Last spring, I created a 3-foot-wide bin from 48-inch wire fencing. A few weeks ago, I wired up three 3-foot-diameter bins from 36-inch-high fencing.

The compost cylinders are against a stone wall out back.

One has kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy but eggshells are good) from throughout the year mixed with a few leaves I chopped in the spring. The others were ready for 100 percent leaves.

My wife raked the tree debris into tall piles, and I poked the leaf-vacuum nozzle in them.

We worked all afternoon, repeatedly emptying the leaf blower-vac’s nylon bag into the three yard-tall bins and part of the 4-footer with finely chopped leaves and perhaps a candy wrapper or two.

I wore a paper dust mask and a pair of $1 safety goggles. The rote work allowed me to daydream.

“Dr. Pollock, Dr. Pollock, you’re needed in surgery. Stat! Hurry! So don’t change! The yard mask and goggles are fine for Fayetteville General’s O.R.”

Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa, goes the instrument monitoring my patient, the once-feisty bachelor millionaire, the old rake.

(Who am I, Walter Mitty’s nephew?)

As the afternoon wore on, the faster I got. Was it because the bag unhooked quicker from the leaf blower-vac? Maybe something broke; that’s why it started coming off easily.

Or was it because my goggles got progressively more caked with sweat and leaf dust and I simply couldn’t determine how thorough I was plowing through the leaf piles.

Then the unseasonable heat began falling. Mosquitoes came out. Should I stop and spray insect repellent? No, we must press on.

It also was getting darker. I needed to hurry to finish the front. The back yard would have to wait for another weekend, perhaps another year.

My wife finished raking, leaving me several piles. She probably was reading the paper, or perhaps performing chores — dinner … please, please let dinner be one of them.

The sky grew dark; so my speed increased. Between the almost-opaque goggles and the twilight I simply could not see, but I could guess by kicking where the piles seem to have been. No leaves meant I completed that spot.

The neighbors surely were lined up at their windows, silently cheering at how clean the Pollock yard was.

It was only the next morning when I saw how many leaves were left on the lawn. Before Sunday, they were up to 6 inches thick; now grass and compacted dirt could be seen in patches, next to the last brown and yellow leaves, up to 3 inches thick.

Did I leave them? Perhaps a major leaf fall occurred during the night. I sought solace from Organic Gardening magazine. A recent issue reported fallen leaves are good for the lawn. Chop some for compost and leave the rest to naturally fertilize and protect the lawn: You don’t see deer and bears out raking up verdant meadows and forests, do you?

My neighbors, however, are not animals. The growling I think I hear when I fetched the papers in my robe probably comes from their cursing the organic leaf fall that will stay on the lawn until the lawn mower comes out in the spring, three weeks after theirs.


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