Looking Up Before Leaves Fall


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.

Japanese Maple.

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.

Japanese Maple.

33 thoughts on “Looking Up Before Leaves Fall

      • As soon as I hit reply I thought I should have told you why I loved it!
        Your style of writing is ‘right’ for me 🙂
        Loved how you took us back in memory – Sunday sounded like a lovely time, reliving the ‘high points’ of Saturday’s raking and jumping.
        Then I also like your current technique and description of the change in our worlds via this kind of everyday task..
        My own world is in turmoil right now Kevin but I’m going to sit in my long gone father’s rocking chair and look out at the plants in my courtyard for a while 🙂

      • Thanks very much for your kind words and for sharing a little bit of what’s happening. Sitting in a rocking chair and looking out is a great way to breathe and think — and if taking things one day at a time is too long of a span, try fifteen minutes at a time. Be well.

    • Funny that you mention that — I keep telling myself, “You are neglecting the screening room page. Start adding some movies.” So, I have. Thanks for the nudge! 🙂

    • Hi Mary. I know what you mean. I actually have a leaf blower — because I lack any kind of leaf blowing skills, I keep it on the vacuum setting. It’s cleaner that way, and at least I know my leaves won’t be returning. 🙂

  1. Kevin, you touched on a number of things in this post that really struck me. I hate hate hate the gas gadgetry that has taken over. The way our kids have no connection to the outdoor world, those simple pleasures lost. Thanks for making it better though by also noticing just how beautiful the leaves are and hopefully reminding people to get outside and look for themselves.

    • Marguerite!! I am amazed at how noisy working in the yard has become. When all of the various crews descend at once, it’s an all-out invasion. As for kids, we spend so much time teaching them about green living and recycling — and so many, at least in my suburban area, would never think of pulling a weed or planting a seed. Very sad. Hopefully the gardeners out there will keep the traditions alive.

  2. Kevin this is a question that actually came up in our office this week. Maybe its our generation! I lived out on a farm in Northern British Columbia Canada and in the spring time while there was still some snow… mositure in the ground we would go out and burn the old grass along the propertys and road. It was a tradition… When the Shelfords went out… we all went out!. In Alberta, even though out on an acreage, not a single farm seemed to do that anymore. I missed it! I also worried about passerbys throwing a cigarette out the window and the the dry old grass catching fire! Leaves on the prairie weren’t such an issue… that 50+ mile an hour wind took care of them… I always wondered where they ended up though.
    Thanks for sharing this. I love how you took me there and I could smell the leaves… hear the rakes and the children and rememeber my own memories….

    • Hi Kathleen. This whole topic is something I can go on and on about. I know there are teenagers living in my neighborhood, and I have yet to see any of them rake or mow or even shovel snow. It boggles my mind — especially when I hear how bored they all are. Thanks so much for commenting — and I take some comfort in knowing this isn’t just an American thing.

  3. Why go to a fitness center when you can be outside on a glorious autumn day enjoying the season, completing a gainful task, and getting exercise at the same time? Makes me think of the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1948. He talks about digging the soil, but the same applies to raking. : “When I go to the garden with spade, and dig a bed, I feel such exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.”

  4. I hated to have to go and work in one of my former employers gardens in Washington DC. Endless noise of leaf blowers working, drowning out the sound of the birds singing. You always left with a ringing in your ears. You’re right about the meditative motion or raking. I spent a little time in SE Asia and every morning you would see people sweeping every day, even though there was nothing to sweep. I was told it was more for the exercise and stretching, but to also get focused for the day than for the actual chore of sweeping. You can’t do that with a leaf blower! Loved the photos.

    • Hello Rob. We Americans can learn a lot from the rest of the world. The more material things we get, the less we actually seem to have. Thanks for commenting. Cheers!

  5. Hi kevin
    Really enjoyed this trip down memory lane–we would all rake the leaves–the boys and the dog would enjoy jumping into the piles–and then the leaves were dragged to the curb when the town still “sucked them up”.
    Now we bag them and hope they are really recycled.

  6. Oh my gosh, Kevin, this is beautiful! Those colors! Wow! We rake without the leaf blowers, but we are truly in the minority. I find leaf blowers an abomination for many reasons, and I have frayed nerves every time one starts up. I get quite an attitude. Ah well, I do look up, and I do appreciate the beauty and I just love the way you’ve written about the fall leaf harvesting! You really capture the essence of what it was for me, too, when I was young and we did all of our gardening without the aid of motors and noise! 🙂

    • Hi Debra. Gardening in silence was and is wonderful. So relaxing. I actually have a leaf blower that I rarely use — mostly because I lack any skill with the thing. I usually end up blowing the leaves at me, rather than away from me. A rake is so much easier to master! 🙂

    • Hi Josh. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Although I am a fan of summer, I have admit that fall does have its own beauty — and it deserves to be recognized.

  7. To push the leaves to the gutter out front and into manageable piles in the back and set them afire would be nice. The neighbors would discuss the coming hurricane, divorces, college acceptances and health… To raise that blister between thumb and forefinger from the rake handle would be even better…

  8. What an awesome way to document the autumn transition to winter! Too often we become lost in the “hassel” of raking to step back and enjoy the connection to nature’s cycles!

    • Hi Wendy. It’s always a good thing to look up — although many of the leaves in the photos have already been blown off of their branches thanks to Sandy. Raking is on my agenda for the upcoming weekend.

  9. Pingback: So Many Beautiful, Lovely Blogs | Travel. Garden. Eat.

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