Of course, I’m referring to leaves — what on earth were you thinking — because my yard is, once again, overrun with leaves — which is strange, since I have very vivid memories of autumn weekends with a rake. I’m positive I raked this yard a few months ago. In fact, I’ve written extensively about my love of raking, and the peace and nostalgia that this chore delivers.
But as I look out at a yard buried under as many leaves as I raked in the fall, I have decided that I am not a fan of spring raking. It’s bothersome and it gets in the way of what I really want to do, which is prepare the beds for actual gardening — not this maintenance stuff. I’ve waited through all of winter for this first warmish weekend to work outside — and raking is not on my list of things to do.
At times like this, I wish I were Samantha Stevens from “Bewitched.” If only my nose could twitch for magic rather than itch for allergies — because if it could, I would change my garden as easily as the show changed Darren.
But a twitching nose is not to be, and I am faced with what can only be described as a wasteland of leaves.
That’s when Joe and I begin our seasonal conversation about hiring a company to come in and do the yard clean up. Outsourcing the yard makes perfect sense. The tiresome chore would get done much more quickly, leaving me more time to do the garden work that I have been aching to do.
In essence, I am the problem because I think I have control over the yard. No one, I tell myself, can clean my yard like I can. No one, I tell myself, can know the subtle curves and nooks. And no one, I tell myself, can know what’s an actual plant and what’s a weed.
Between you and me, though, I have blower envy.
Each spring, my neighbors hire lawn care services to return their yards to a pristine state. Once the trailers and trucks arrive, the landscapers strap motors onto their backs and arm themselves with their blowers, turning my suburban street into a scene from Zero Leaf Thirty. Once suited up, they begin their choreographed assault, herding leaves into a pile for future disposal.
Watching them, I am reminded of those moments when I pass a field or basketball court and see a group of men, all strangers to one another, put together some kind of ball game — all without saying a word. It’s as if there is something in their DNA — an athletic telepathy, of sorts — that allows them to do this, something that is certainly missing from my own DNA.
It’s the same thing with the pro blowers. I know it’s their job, but how do they make it look so easy and effortless? How are they able to get all of the leaves to obey the power of the blower? How are they able to get the job done so quickly? I realize they do this each day and I understand that they work in tandem with one another — but I constantly find myself blown away each time another neighbor’s yard is blown clean.
I wish I could blow like that.
I own a leaf blower, but I cannot master its use. Only recently, I perfected blowing smaller jobs, like grass clippings after mowing the lawn. But a big job like this spring thing? Nope. I can’t do it.
I fantasize about being able to blow out the beds, gently, of course, so as not to disturb the new growth and the mulch. Then, once the beds are clean, I blow the leaves using a graceful sweeping motion to move them off the lawn and driveway, until they are piled high for bagging.
That’s the dream. Reality usually has me gently blowing the leaves out of the beds, only to become frustrated because spring leaves are more tightly packed than autumn leaves. As a result, leaves don’t leave. Instead, they’re matted down or deeply embedded in the inner branches of the shrubs. I start playing with the force dial, taking my blower from a breeze to a hurricane that rips leaves and mulch and topsoil out of the beds.
I also tend to do this chore on the windiest of weekends, when the wind blows back whatever I have blown out. I must be quite the show for the neighbors on days like this, as I try to blow leaves away from the house, only to have them blow upward and around, as if I’m a game show contestant locked in a glass box filled with blowing dollar bills.
That’s why I usually stick with vacuuming up the leaves, which is nothing like the gentle push-and-pull action of an indoor vacuum cleaner. This outdoor contraption, bulky and awkward, requires a lift-and-descend motion, so the tip can loosen the packed leaves, sucking them up and shredding them into bits, which are blown into the catch bag that hangs over my shoulder.
It sounds so clean, doesn’t it? But sucking up leaves is a filthy job, one that usually sees me working in a cloud of mulch dust, especially when I forget to zip up the bag. Joe often tells me — once the motor is off and the dust has settled — that I should wear a mask. I know I should, but I don’t, because it’s just leaves — just dead, moldy leaves. No harm there, right?
This sort of thinking is probably why I tend to overfill the catch bag with mulched leaves. I’m aware that the bag has swollen to a size that makes it all but impossible to maneuver, but I continue to suck on. Just let me finish this one bed, I tell myself as the now-weighty bag digs the strap into my neck. These leaves are not the boss of me, and I will prove to my neighbors, those pros, and myself that although I’m an amateur, I’m still a homeowner who doesn’t need to pay to be blown.
At this point, a twig usually gets sucked up, jamming the mechanism, and I have to stop and take the vacuum apart, mumbling curses about leaves and machines and pro-blowers and pro-suckers. Is it so wrong, I wonder, to be a grower and not a blower?
As I hear my moans and groans, I’m aware of the silence all around me. My neighbors’ landscapers are gone; they left long ago — and their work is stunning. The beds are spotless and the lawns look as if they were combed — yes, combed — each blade of grass leaning in the same direction.
Reality hurts — I suck at blowing, and my sucking isn’t much better. Clearly, I’m not man enough, nor gardener enough, to meet the needs of my yard and I now must make a choice — either get the rake or get the phone number off of the next landscaping trailer that drives down the street.
Or . . . I could start all over again tomorrow. It’s still the weekend. It’s kind of warm — and I know I can rise to the challenge, because there’s a sucker born every minute.