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Monday, November 17, 2008

Adventures in leaf raking

I raked leaves this past weekend. I raked leaves the weekend before, too, and not just my leaves, but the leaves of the woman next door, and of the recently-widowed neighbor across the street.

Not out of the goodness of my heart, or not just out of the goodness of my heart. I wanted the leaves. I wanted them for use as mulch on my blueberries over the coming Winter, since I have found that those blueberry bushes that are heavily mulched - like, buried in mulch, wrapped in burlap, and otherwise insulated - tend to grow more and bear more fruit the next season. And I want them for making leaf mold, which is an excellent soil conditioner in the garden but takes about five years to make. (Mix one bag of leaves with a few shovels of soil and some water. Pierce bag with pitchfork. Wait.)

But mostly, I wanted them for insulation.

Not for me. For the cats. The stray cats outside. For their shelters. I can't ensure that they'll all survive the Winter, but I can give them a fighting chance by surrounding their shelters with several feet of bagged leaves.

So I raked. This past weekend, and the weekend before. The weekend before I raked on Saturday, when it was quite warm, and all the little gnats were active, so active that I had to get a hat with a brim (to keep them away from my eyes and nose; they tend to come no closer than the edge of the brim) with a watch cap pulled over that, and over my ears, too keep the bugs out. I raked a bit on Sunday, too, when it was cold enough that I needed the hat-and-cap for warmth, not bug protection.

I got ten bags that weekend. Seven from my yard and the next-door neighbor's yard, three from the lady across the street. But I wasn't done yet. Some leaves were still stubbornly clinging to the trees. I knew I would have to wait until this past weekend to finish the job.

Only this past weekend it was supposed to rain.

I got up Saturday thinking I would be rained out of a job. But, no, the rain was spotty and sporadic enough that I should have clear spots for long enough to do what I had to do. I putzed around in the morning while some episodes of drizzle came and went, but by noon (having listened to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! on NPR) I was ready to get started.

I got my gloves, my rake, my cart, and several garbage bags. I got my little smooth-soled slip-on sneakers that I use as garden shoes. I headed out to the front quarter to rake what had fallen off our Japanese Red Maple and Oak. It looked like a bagful.

The day was warm, but the bugs were apparently otherwise occupied. I was almost done filling the bag when it began to rain.

It wasn't so bad, particularly in retrospect. But it was raining hard enough that once I had the first bag filled I decided to take a break and let the rain pass. I went inside, switched on The Weather Channel (which was showing one of the typical Weather Porn shows that have come to fill up their schedule) and waited for Local On the Eights. The :48 slot came and went without a break, so I decided to cool my heels for another ten minutes and see. The show ended at the stroke of :58, and local weather broke through the stories of weather-based tragedy that pay the bills at The Weather Channel. Radar showed ribbons of precipitation slicing through the area. I could see the one that had just passed, and I could see another lining us up for a shot. If I time this right, I could clear the yard across the street before that hits, I thought. So I geared up again and rolled the cart out of our driveway, across the street, and up the handicapped-access curb cut leading to my neighbor's house.

Her Japanese Red Maple had also conveniently dropped the rest of its leaves, but her yard has some obstacles that mean raking requires some planning and forethought. I came up with a plan of attack, assigned piles here, here, and here, and started raking.

I was about a third of the way done when it started to rain.

Once again, it wasn't so bad, not at first. A light drizzle. I could avoid getting too wet by standing under the barren branches of the Japanese Red Maple. Well, not so much under as among. Those trees hold their branches low.

I had filled one bag completely when the rain picked up a bit.

Well, I can't quit now. I was about halfway done, and the wind was picking up, and it would undo all the piles of and rows of leaves I had just made. Besides, it was just a little rain. I'm tough. Hey, I'm half Polish. I could take it.

It started raining harder.

There comes a point when you are raking leaves and it starts to rain when you can say "Screw this, I'm going in," and head back inside without getting thoroughly drenched. There's no shame in doing that. Many leaf-raking experts might advise that that is the right thing to do in those circumstances.

But once you have gone beyond this point and are thoroughly soaked, and are mostly blind from the rain on your glasses and the water dripping into your eyes, and your leather gloves begin to feel like a second skin because the water has softened them to the point that they are as supple as they were before the tanning process, when all you can do is focus on the pile of leaves in front of you and try to ignore the rest of the world...well, when you have reached that point, there really isn't much point in turning back. You can only get so wet.

Japanese Red Maples hold their branches low. Did I mention that? A very dangerous thing for a hulking half-Pole who is half-blinded by the rain on his glasses and the water dripping into his eyes and from the tunnel vision caused by focusing on the pile of leaves in front of him. The branch that I ran into while moving with all deliberate speed didn't hit me across the forehead hard enough to knock me out, or even knock me down. But it did leave a mark.

I finished, eventually. I was completely soaked. I was cursing at myself for my stupidity. I piled the bags of leaves, extra-heavy from the water clinging to each leaf, into the cart, and laid the rake across them. I only had to reload the cart one or two times as the bags tumbled out onto the sidewalk.

I made it across the street and into the driveway, but balancing the rake was a pain. Lose it. Dump it here and come back for it later. I did, tossing it on the lawn right near the curb, halfway in the driveway.

I got the cart and the leaves to the designated spot as the monsoon hit.

Fine. Done. Leaves in place. Cart turned over to serve as a cat shelter. Go in house, get out of rain.

Oh, crap, forgot the rake.

Plan B: Go back down the lawn, down the hill. Get the rake. Go in house through garage. Strip off soaked clothes, throw in washer, and go directly into shower.

Wet hills and smooth-soled slip-on sneakers do not mix.

I fell. I'm not sure of the particulars, but I wound up on my butt, right leg folded under me, left ankle twisted. Nothing felt sprained or broken or dislocated. I got up and did exactly the same thing again.

At least by now I was mostly down the hill. I fought through the sideways rain to get to the rake. I braved raindrops the size of marbles to get back to the garage.

I got inside and propped up the rake. Took off my gloves, my nice new leather gardening gloves, now soaked. I inserted the handle of the rake into one so that it could dry with the fingers up. I found a broom and did the same thing with the other.

I went into the basement and made my way to the washing machine. Pulled off my shirt and threw it in. Tried to pull off my T-shirt, but the fabric was old, and tired, and wet, and stuck to my body. My fingers went through the fabric like it was wet paper, nearly tearing the neck ring off completely.

Well, it will make good rags, I thought as I tossed it into the wash.

A hot shower never felt so good.

1 comment:

MaryRuth said...

Oh my, that is hilarious. But your kitties (and neighbors) will love you.
Not too many leaves to rake around here. When my perfectionist BF needed leaves--just the right kind, mind you--for the yard haunt, we had to drive around until we saw some, then knock on some guy's door and ask if we could rake and take his leaves.