I don't know why I gave this blog post the title I did. But that's how the Tao works: mysteriously.
Anyway, I like feeling special, and so far Google tells me that the Internet is bereft of Taoist (or in this case, pseudo-Taoist) musings about how raking leaves leads one to recognize his or her oneness with the cosmos.
By "one," of course, I mean me. So forget the "her" in the rest of this blog post, because in our home, contrary to our species' evolutionary history, the male is both the hunter and gatherer of leaves.
A few days ago Laurel did offer to rake up some leaves that were littered on our lawn. But by that time I was in the final stages of my masterful leaf-disposal system and I didn't want to dilute my feeling of accomplishment by having my wife involved in a minor way at the very end.
I have, you see, come to a understanding of the Meaning of Leaves after twenty years of dealing with them on our non-easy-care yard out here in rural south Salem (Oregon).
They simply do what nature would have them do. Leaves aren't out to drive me crazy come October and November, though sometimes in my darker leaf disposal moments it seemed that way.
If a James Bond movie featured an evil genius who was out to destroy the sanity of an arch-rival through malevolent leaf-manipulations, he would design a house with landscaping just like ours, arrange to have his enemy move into it, and then wait for him to fall apart.
Quite a few large oaks surround our home.
So no matter which way the wind is blowing, a massive amount of oak leaves will end up in our yard. Different trees also lose their leaves at different times, so just when I figure they're almost all picked up, the oaks do their tag-team thing and one will throw down a fresh bunch of leaves.
To make matters worse -- a lot worse -- our yard is filled with rocks, ground cover, heather, and other features which look great most of the time, yet become leaf magnets in the fall.
In addition, we've planted many deciduous trees over the past couple of decades. So the overall situation I'm faced with can be simply described as a leaf nightmare. At least, that's how I used to look upon it before I became a Taoist leaf-collection sage.
Last weekend I slipped into my old habit briefly when I interrupted my work for lunch, then said to Laurel, "Well, I'm back to the leaf wars." That was the old me speaking. The new me manages to mostly look upon the leaves as friends who simply need some nudging to get them into their proper places, since they aren't able to move purposefully on their own.
I actually look foward to dealing with the leaves.
Now that I have a system, albeit a constantly evolving one in accord with the ever-changing Tao, the three hours or so it takes me to do a complete run-through of our yard (which needs to be repeated several times in November) is a largely pleasurable opportunity to follow the Zen'ish adage "chop wood, carry water, rake leaves."
I don't need to think much about what I'm doing, which involves about an equal measure of raking and blowing. My Taoist leaf-disposal-sensibility took a big leap forward a few years ago when I bought a Stihl backpack blower to replace the handheld blower I'd been using before.
This converted me into an artist rather than a technician. The Stihl blower has a continuous control lever, whereas my old handheld one had discrete low/medium/high settings.
So now I can move leaves around with pleasing precision, especially when they're dry or semi-so. I've developed patterns that are adapted to the lay of our land, echoing nature in how water flows downhill, via valleys, until it reaches lakes and oceans.
Which in our yard are walkways, the lawn, and surrounding brush. Sometimes I can blow leaves directly into the untamed portion of our property; if not, I rake them into piles, put them into a large plastic leaf bag, then drag or carry them beyond the confines of our landscaping.
Many of them go on a trail leading to a nearby creek and lake that we walk on regularly. I enjoy treading on several inches of leaves rather than bare muddy ground.
Whenever possible, I follow a like-to-like approach. That is, I dump the contents close to whichever oak tree accounted for most of the leaves of that variety in the bag.
At the beginning and end of leaf season, sometimes the number of leaves on the lawn is amenable to being mowed over (studies show that leaving chopped-up leaves on grass works just fine).
Dealing with leaves has taught me a lot about life.
I've learned that I can't control what happens naturally. I'd prefer that all of the trees drop their leaves at the same time, so I could pick them up over the course of a week rather than a month. However, nature doesn't operate in accord with my preferences (if it did, I'd still look like I did when I was twenty).
I've learned that perfection isn't possible. I can't collect every leaf, nor would I want to. Our yard looks better when it has a rustic flavor to it, rather than artificially manicured.
I've learned that slow and steady is better than fast and erratic. I no longer wear myself out trying to extract stuck leaves from bushes, heather, and such at the same time as I'm doing the main leaf-collection deed. There will be time to refine the look of our yard during the (occasional) dry days of winter, when I enjoy picking up those stuck leaves by hand.
I've learned that I'm not the center of the leaf-universe. Though I'll admit that we've cut down a few scrubby oaks in our yard mostly because they were annoying leaf-droppers, I've come to look upon myself as an interloper in the much longer life span of the large oaks.
Some of them, we've been told by arborists, are well over 200 years old. They may have been growing during the Revolutionary War. Certainly during the War of 1812. Those oaks were here long before me, and some or all will be here long after me.
Along that line, it dawned on me as I was dealing with leaves last weekend that the trees on our property are steadily growing bigger, hence leafier, at the same time my vitality is on a shrinking trajectory. So every year the leaves likely will be more numerous while my ability to handle them diminishes (slowly, I hope; so far my 62 year old body feels just as leaf-collecting capable as it always has).
My wife and I bought our home when we were about 40. The sellers were a couple in their 60's who said they'd gotten to the point where they couldn't handle the upkeep on the house and property anymore.
For a long time, when someone asked how we ended up here I'd say, "We bought from an elderly couple who'd found the house had become too much trouble to deal with." Now, for obvious reasons related to our birthdates, I change "elderly" to "in their 60s."
I'm grateful that I'm still able and willing to blow, rake, and carry the mountains of leaves that fall in our yard each year. I hope to be able to carry on with my annual leafy get-together for a long time. Yet I realize that one year will be the last year I'm able to do this.
Almost certainly I won't be able to anticipate when that will be. Death and disability usually don't announce their impending arrival with any sort of calendarish precision. So all I can do is continue flowing with the leaf-falling as if this time could be the final time.
There would be worse ways to take a last breath than with a Stihl blower on my back, engaged in dealing with the recurring cycle of tree-life. Way worse ways.