We had a beautiful November evening here today, so after work I took a walk through some area neighborhoods. After the weekend’s wind and cold, most of the leaves are now off the trees.
As I walked along I saw numerous people out raking and bagging leaves. It was interesting to notice the varying states of peoples’ yards. Some were immaculate – not a leaf was left on the grass. Others had leaves strewn about, but you could tell the yard had been raked at some point over the weekend. And then there were some yards that were covered by every leaf that had grown all season on the overhead branches.
I noticed that the borders between different yards were often clearly defined: it was like there were lines drawn, with neat and cleared grass on one side and leaves in various states of decay on the other. These borders seemed to be a clear example of an American sense of responsibility that is inherently individualistic: “I’m responsible for mine; you’re responsible for yours.”
I understand this perspective, because that’s generally the way I’ve cleared my yard. (I’m lazy though: I use a lawn mower with a bag attachment to pick up the leaves.) The one problem with this perspective is it’s arbitrary; it doesn’t fit with the way nature does things.
And so, on days like this past Saturday, the wind picks up dramatically and gusts blow the uncollected leaves to and fro, down the street and into everyone else’s yard. And then the owners of the neat yards start thinking dark thoughts about the owners of the leafy yards: those lazy bums whose leaves have now blown onto those (until recently) neat yards.
Remember the anger expressed in those August town hall meetings on health care reform? The message was clearly “I am not my brother’s keeper.” And that would go double for people “too lazy” to pick up their leaves. And so the anger builds…
But as I walked this evening I realized those windy days serve another purpose: they remind us that in spite of our arbitrary boundaries we are all linked together in this natural world. While we may get angry at our neighbors for not conforming to our sense of orderliness, they’re not the ones who created the leaves and dictated that they will turn and drop in November. That’s just the way nature does things. Why don’t we get mad at nature? Could it be because that sounds silly – like getting mad at the tide for coming in?
Maybe we need to realize that into each of our lives some leaves will fall…and then maybe blow around for a while. Being linked together, both as neighbors and as humans trying to live in a shared natural world, we might try being considerate of those around us and do something about our leaves. But if for whatever reason some people won’t or can’t, maybe we should just try to find the positive in the situation.
After all, the physical activity associated with leaf collection is probably good for us – especially at a dark and cold time of year when many of us are getting less exercise. And I suspect that wind is really nature’s way of tucking trees and shrubs in for the winter, with a leafy blanket around their roots to hold in moisture and warmth. (Though this blanket can cause other problems.)
So I’ll try to keep all this in mind the next time the winds blow and the uncollected leaves from the house three doors down my street come bounding into my yard. And we’ll see if that changes my perspective on those lazy bums – er, unenlightened individuals.