At War with the Leaves

“Not sure about this leafy endeavor” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (September 22, 2004).

Nature has an interesting way of regenerating itself. It drops seeds in the form of acorns, “helicopter petals” and the like, with the hope of bringing another tree into existence. Moreover, these same trees, if they are of the noble deciduous variety, shed themselves in order that their offspring might have some fertile ground in which to grow. For most of our woody friends, that time is autumn – and it begins today.

It is a rather fruitless endeavor for the trees, though, for every fall we humans take up our grand cause of leaf collecting. Allies with our ever-vulnerable grass, we launch a military defense against this leafy onslaught. With rakes, leaf-blowers and other such suburban weaponry on our side, the trees have no chance. I often wonder why trees don’t abandon their leaf-letting as a hopeless cause.

I am a longtime soldier in this battle with the trees. I stopped taking count, but I must have sent 100,000 or so of these interlopers to their Glad-garbage-bag demise. They are where they belong now, in a landfill fertilizing rubber tires, broken appliances, and the ever-growing jetsam of human life. I even added a leafblower to my arsenal last fall, and so I’m ready for the battle to begin this year.

The thing is, I’m tempted to sit it out this fall. Perhaps I’ll go AWOL and join the neighborhood kids at the park for a game of pick-up football.

Easier said than done. For as much as I’d like to boycott the battle this fall, I know the collective guilt trip of the neighbors will keep me in line. How can I simply let leaves litter my lawn and flower beds when everyone else’s property looks like a freshly vacuumed carpet of green? Even worse, I’ll begin to feel a slight pang of guilt when all my unattended-to leaves blow onto my neighbors’ property.

So there I will be, joining the neighborhood in seizing each and every leaf that comes our way. We’ll smile, wave and exchange hellos as we go about our work, but our words won’t be audible over the roar of our twocycle engines. Soon enough, we’ll dot our curbs with an endless row of garbage bags. Though I’m sure it will be unsightly, I aim to try composting this year. I may not be able to boycott the battle, but I can certainly choose how to dispose of the casualties.

Is all this leaf collecting really necessary? Perhaps I sound a lot like a 12-year-old complaining about chores, but to this day I can’t comprehend the need to so zealously collect every fallen leaf in sight. It’s sort of like making your bed. Sure, it may look nice, but really, where’s the harm in not?

I’ll tell you where it is: in the grass, or at least our perception of what it should look like. With so much time and money spent on making our lawn look like the picture on that bag of chemical-laden fertilizer, we can’t stand by and let the leaves choke our pretty green blades.

Therein, perhaps, is the answer. Not in the grass, but in our need to control it – and over everything else in our back yards. Trees are to grow only where we plant them. Shrubs and plants are to be placed exactly where we say. And weeds? Well, they should be stricken from the planet. Moreover, trees and plants come from the local nursery (or worse yet, Home Depot), not from an acorn that dropped down onto our lawn from high above.

Sure, a certain amount of maintenance and manicuring is preferable, and even necessary, for the protection of our homes and quality of life. Just the same, a certain amount of benign neglect can be of tremendous benefit as well.

If only we could relinquish even an ounce of our need for control. Should you have hesitations about such behavior, I urge you to visit the nearest state park. As you stroll through its woods, see whether those weeds and renegade leaves catch your eyes. Chances are they will, but in a much different way. There’s beauty to be found in the indiscriminate way nature creates itself.

If only we would let her.

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