Nothing motivates me to rake leaves quite like having a neighbor who has already done it.
The juxtaposition of his bright-green lawn with my leaf-carpeted one highlights the fact that my turf needs to breathe; this sodden leaf layer must be suffocating poor Blade O'Grass and the rest of his family. So I assembled the tools - garden gloves, rake and trash bags - and attacked the yard with gusto last week.
Initially, it was almost a meditative activity; the gentle scrape-scrape of the rake matched my breathing.
I felt invigorated by the crisp fall air and encouraged by the growing piles of russet and gold. Grandpa Fescue was standing tall again, and Sprout Jr. kept waving.
After a couple of hours, though, the sharp ping-ping of my back muscles accompanied the gentle scrape-scrape of the rake, and I grew weary as well as bored. I remembered we owned a leaf blower, which I abhor along with other loud tools such as the weed-whacker and chain saw. But this time I decided to try it out, because dusk was upon me and I hadn't even half-finished the front yard.
I have a plug-in model, so I connected a couple of extension cords and brought the blower out to the unfinished area by my property line, past a heap of leaves on which my dog lounged. I pushed the power button and was immediately blown back by the violent force of the air, which sent one of my neat piles swirling 10 feet high and over toward my neighbor's yard. I tried to regain control of the machine, holding it close to my body while attempting to turn and redirect the airflow to blow the leaves back into my yard. Instead, I swung completely around and ended up blow-drying my dog with such force that he ran 37 tight circles around the Japanese maple.
I quickly shut off the leaf blower and took corrective action: I looked around to see if anyone had been watching.
Let me just say that I have a profound new appreciation for landscapers who make leaf blowing look effortless. They wave that blower around like a magic wand, and the leaves swirl themselves into neat little stacks, whereas my yard looked like I had used a fire hose.
I was about to give up when suddenly there appeared two small angels in the form of my neighbor's 7-year-old twin girls.
"Miss Janet," one chimed, "can we jump in your leaves?" At this point, I could see no reason why not. The dog was coursing through my once-tidy piles in an effort to process his air-blasting.
"Go ahead!" I said. I went back into the garage to retrieve the rake.
"Can we help?" they chorused. Not being one to discourage free child labor, I immediately handed over my rake and attempted to gain mastery of the blower. But I found I couldn't hear the girls' enthusiastic chatter while they worked.
So I shut off the blower and we worked together, sometimes raking, sometimes jumping. One girl was a natural manager, giving us both instructions. The other spent a lot of time petting the dog, which, in fact, made an important contribution to our leaf-raking success.
Every time we filled a bag, I announced to the girls, "We must do an ancient Native American dance and thank Mother Nature for this lovely autumn in Maryland!" I made up a politically incorrect dance and we performed it in the street.
When the job was done, I offered to pay the girls, but they said their mom wouldn't let them accept money - but they just love chocolate bars.
So I'm off to pick up some Kit-Kats and Hershey's with Almonds to thank them - not really for the raking, but for the joy they bring to my life. Someday when they are my age, I trust they will find this memory even sweeter.