Standing on my lawn in a sea of red, yellow, and brown leaves last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the alien green glow of my neighbors’ grass. Their carpets of rolling green stretched on forever, unblemished by a single speck on non-green.
Sometime it seems as though the neighbors are deathly afraid of leaves. Looking at their lawns, you’d be amazed we live in a community of trees, because come Fall, the leaves seem to magically disappear as soon as they hit the ground. I’m gone when they disappear. I believe that trucks of workers drive in during the weekdays and do their noisy covert work, cleaning away any vestiges of tree remains. I’m trying to figure out if it’s intentional. Do my neighbors really dislike the leaves and want to see them cleared regularly? Or, is it simply a byproduct of their scheduled home maintenance? In other words, do their regularly scheduled lawn-care plans mean that the leaves just disappear with everything else on a weekly basis, in a matter-of-face, un-examined way.
Regardless, there are no leaves.
Standing ankle deep in my own leaves this past weekend, I noticed the chill in the air, the empty trees, the barren flower beds. I noticed the death all around. The death that comes every year. The dryness and decay made me think of my own losses. Hopes that have faded, or opportunities that have been lost. But all this thought about death and loss didn’t necessary depress me. I didn’t feel alone in the loss. I didn’t feel as though the loses where solely attached to my fate. The world goes through a period of loss, death, and decay. Because I was surrounded by the brown dryness of dead leaves, I felt like a part of something; part of a cycle.
I went about collecting leaves in order to cut my still-growing October grass, and had created a pile under my son’s tree-trapeze. Given how many trees we have on our property, even the mid-October pile was a sight to behold, and my son’s eyes lit up with excitement. He spent the next few hours swinging and jumping into the leaves, calling me over each time he invented a new trick. He had me swing him, or remove his step-ladder, or video him taking his leaps.
The green grass under the leaves and my son’s gleeful play led me to think about the exuberant life that’s only capable of flourishing because of the cycle of death in the world. Without the leaves losing their foliage, by son wouldn’t have his crunchy mattress to leap into. Without the nutrients from the death and decay, the rest of the world couldn’t grow and find its vibrancy.
Perhaps I was waxing too poetic. They’re just leaves. But I couldn’t help but notice all these feelings that welled up, simply standing outside, doing a bit of yard work. It made me think about the contrast between my yard and some others. It made me think about the ways in which we organize our lives to keep the death out; to keep things pretty until the first flakes of snow white-out the landscape. I think it’s hard tolerating death, disorder, chaos. That’s what leaves represent. They are the loss of all that was beautiful and vibrant over the summer. Sure they’re pretty in all their colorful splendor when they’re still on the trees, or novel when they’re underfoot in a park or a nature preserve, but once they fall on our lawns, they sit there like dead bodies in our front yards. And the process of collecting them is like cleaning up the mess and disorder of death, carting them off in bags or trucks, or burning them on great pyres.
But if we can’t sit with them, if we can’t tolerate them for this season, then we rob ourselves of those reminders. We rob ourselves of the full cycle of life, and miss the opportunity to feel that we are not alone in our losses. We rob ourselves of the opportunities to see the joy and life that comes from death.
We need to pile up those leaves while we can, and jump in with abandon.