Fall is here, which doesn’t mean a lot in Florida. I miss the season—the crispness in the air, the changing colors, the anticipation of the holidays and the smell of baking pies instead of barbecue.
One thing I don’t miss is raking leaves, which I had to do every Monday when we were stationed in California, and lived in military housing. On Tuesday, civil servants from the base housing office would inspect everyone’s yards to make sure they were keeping it up to military standards.
We had only one tree in the front yard, yet on a typical fall Monday, after filling half a dozen black garbage bags, there were still leaves carpeting the yard. It seemed for every hundred I raked up, five hundred more dropped out of that tree.
When I awoke the next morning and glanced out the window, I had to wonder if some prankster had emptied every single last one of those garbage bags onto my lawn, because the yard looked as if it hadn’t been raked all year. But the long row of bulging black bags still sat along the curb, waiting for garbage pickup like a group of squat commuters lining up for their city bus connection.
So after breakfast I went back out, rake in hand. An occasional gust rustled the tree branches over my head, blowing another future bagful of leaves to the ground. I felt like Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, only I was battling leaves instead of hordes of walking brooms hauling buckets of water. I’d filled up three more bags when, with sinking heart, I spotted the yard inspector approaching with his clipboard.
“Morning,” he said curtly. “You know you’re supposed to have those leaves raked up in time for inspection?”
“I did. I had them all raked up yesterday afternoon, and more of them blew down during the night.”
The inspector wasn’t buying it. He plucked a pen out of his pocket and began scribbling on his clipboard. “I’ll have to write you up. Base regulations specifically state the yard must be in inspection order by 0730 hours every Tuesday. None of your neighbors have leaves in their yards.”
He was right. All the neighbors had trees in their yards, yet there wasn’t a single leaf in any of them. Certainly there were browning leaves still clinging to the branches of the neighbors’ trees, but with each gust of autumn wind, the dying leaves fluttered frantically across the street before they finally made a forlorn landing amongst the leaves from my own tree.
I’ve heard tales of a mysterious place deep in the sea, where whales go to cock their fins up. If you found the place, you’d see nothing but giant whalebones everywhere. I’ve also heard of a similar, equally remote place for elephants. The front lawn of our house in California must’ve been the officially designated “bone yard” for dying foliage.
No matter which way the wind blew—east, west, north, south—everyone else’s leaves rolled into my yard—and stayed put. I wondered if there was some sort of magnetic field in my yard, a weird geological anomaly that sucked in not only leaves, but other debris, to include everyone else’s litter. Maybe it explained why the neighbors’ kids practically lived in our yard instead of playing in their own.
At one point I watched a plastic bag go billowing and bouncing down the street, occasionally hopping into one yard and then another before returning to the street, until it finally fluttered to a halt in the dead center of our yard. And wouldn’t you know it, that bag refused to budge thereafter. In frustration I picked it up and dropped it into the middle of the neighbor’s yard. It rolled right back, doggedly following me like The Red Balloon.
In desperation I started beating it with the rake in hopes it would flee in terror down the street to the next county. But instead it only lay there, inert, submissive, a doormat and a glutton for punishment, rather like yours truly used to be.
Every time the yard inspector wrote us up for something, I wanted to see what his yard looked like.
Oh, and right after I finished writing this, I had to get up and go into the living room to stop Baby Bear from using my sofa as a trampoline. As I replaced all the cushions and pillows on the sofa, he went into my office and added the following message to this blog entry: