I always dreamt of country life: biking down shady lanes, fishing in sparkling ponds, and jumping into piles of autumn leaves. But as a city kid in Manhattan, all I could do was devour books describing these joys.
Finally, all grown up, I moved to the suburbs. It was early November, so I found lots of autumn leaves. My new neighbors recommended their gardener with his noisy leaf-blower.
"No, thank you," I said. "I can't miss my chance to rake leaves, have a bonfire, roast chestnuts."
"It's illegal to burn your leaves," they replied with a laugh. "But you can rake 'em all you want."
With an ancient, rusty rake I went to work. There was music as I put rake to leaf. First, delicate tinkling as the metal tines jostled each other. Then the swish of leaves colliding as my rake herded them together.
I heard different sounds from fresh, moist leaves and those that were parchment-dry.
Squirrels added staccato crunch notes with their arced leaps. I heard feathery taps, barely audible whispers, as individual leaves fell from shedding trees.
The visual feast was endless: carpets of crimson and fiery orange woven with sun yellow. When the wind was right, bronze and rust oak leaves added a mellowing touch. Graceful shapes, like large confetti, drifted down, mesmerizing in their dance to the ground.
The old rake, sturdy in my calloused hands, conveyed the feel of firm earth beneath its tines. Sometimes the leaves felt weightless. Sometimes, when the rain reached them before I did, they were heavily wet, resistant to my pull. Now and then, I felt a gentle touch as a drifting leaf brushed my cheek.
With each scrape of rake, the smell of earthy dampness rose. And when tines found hidden mushrooms or wild chives, the moldy, spicy scents combined in a perfect blend.
Sound, sight, touch, and smell: a sensory smorgasbord.
Finally, there was even taste. Hot cider, cinnamon-spiked, warmed my throat as I gazed at neatly mounded piles of leaves - the finale of a job well done.
Decades later, I still rake my own leaves. It takes a long time, and I don't always get them all. Friends ask me why I persist. "Efficiency and perfection," I reply, "are not all they're cracked up to be."