What has happened to raking?
I always remember raking as a communal event, one that involved most neighbors and all members of the family in some capacity. Give the neighbors a perfect autumn day, and they’ll give you one universal thought: “It’s cool and crisp and there isn’t a breeze – this is a perfect day for raking.”
For us kids, raking leaves was another chance to play and to use our imaginations. Once the leaves were piled into mountains, we had our ammunition for the leaf war between my house and friends who lived across the street. And if we weren’t hurling our raked leaves at one another, we were jumping into the mounds – along with my dog at the time, a Brittany Spaniel named Gypsy.
At the end of the day, we re-raked the leaves and bagged them – and no one cared about who won or lost the Saturday leaf battle. We were all winners – and Sunday became the day when we could relive the high points of the previous day.
When I first moved in with Joe, I was exposed to a whole other communal seasonal tradition. At the time, the town vacuumed up leaves. When word spread that the truck was scheduled to arrive on a specific day, the entire neighborhood was outside, madly raking leaves into the street. I was immediately reminded of my childhood neighborhood preparing for the leaf war.
Then the truck appeared, moving down the street at a slow pace as town employees manned the tubes. It was a like a scene from the sci-fi classic Soylent Green – only this time the truck was sucking up leaves and not people. I could have won many a leaf war with this piece of equipment – just suck up the enemy’s ammo before they could toss a bundle in my direction.
That fall tradition eventually ended when the town made some cutbacks. Now we have to rake and bag, rake and bag. I’ve managed to turn that into a game with my own technique. Place a bag in a wide-mouthed garbage can. Rake. Pile. Tip can on its side. Rake into can. Lift can back up. Mash down leaves in can. Continue filling, using the rake as a giant hand. Remove bag. Tie off. Repeat.
It may not sound like fun to the average raker, but it still keeps the task enjoyable for me – especially now that my community of rakers has vanished.
My neighbors have stopped raking. Instead, they have lawn companies that arrive while they are at work. Heavy equipment is unloaded. Men, working like ants, hoist blowers onto their backs while someone else traces patterns across lawns with a machine that vacuums and mulches the fallen leaves.
This assault, with its noise and fumes, has reduced the shock and awe of autumn’s color. I can no longer smell the sweet and pungent scent of the leaves. I can no longer hear the rhythmic whoosh of the rake’s tines. And so I keep my eyes downward, focused on my raking game, wondering what happened to community? Is raking a lost art? How come the kids aren’t playing in the leaves? How come teenagers aren’t earning some extra money by raking? How come parents aren’t outside with their kids teaching them to rake or to understand the changing color process or encouraging them to be stewards of the land — even if the land is a suburban plot?
I have no answers, and so I content myself with the repetitive, meditative motion.
Today, though, I glanced up and literally saw the colored leaves in a whole new light. The leaves that would soon fall to the ground were glowing, on fire, backlit by the October sun – and the colors rivaled that of any stained glass in any cathedral. I breathed.
And that’s when it occurred to me. Yes, life has changed – and many aspects of it may be lost forever – and I can spend an awful lot of time lamenting the loss and complaining about the current state of things.
Or, I can look up and appreciate what is — although, I do think it’s quite sad for those who have thrown down their rakes and in their scheduled lives never take time to really pause and look up.
Yes, it is far better — and more beautiful — thing to look up.