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It's officially autumn, or fall if you prefer.  It's the season named after the falling leaves, when the green in the middle of our visual horizon falls to the bottom as a springy multi-colored carpet.  Soon it will be time to rake leaves and that's when the fun begins in my front lawn. 

I belong to the hardy group who rake their own leaves.  However, I rake selectively and cannot understand why some people insist on removing every single leaf as soon as it hits the ground.  They must be driven by boredom or the need for exercise, fresh air and sunshine.  Frankly, I believe it's more an exercise in futility - or maybe more appropriately, vanity.  Although I do enjoy the sight of newly fallen yellow, orange, red and brown leaves as they rest on my fall-green lawn, ultimately they should be removed or they will smother the grass when they become a soggy brown layer of biomess. 

Although I live on a farm, there are eight houses nearby, all of which have two or more large deciduous yard trees, mostly maples.  I have only one.  My next door neighbor has several century old sugar maples that throw their leaves onto my side yard and flowerbeds - and into my rain gutters, onto my porches and into my garage - but this is not about that.  Sometimes I exaggerate, but it does seem like all their leaves ultimately wind up in my yard. 

Experience has proven that if I keep my lawn mowed short while the leaves are falling, not only are many of them mulched in the process, but those that escape the mower blades tumble away with the wind, ending up in the cow pasture behind my house.  In order to do the most effective cleanup with the least effort, I rake only once toward the end of the season and then I mow once more giving the rest of the leaves their freedom to do whatever they will. 

Since leaf removal from my yard is my own responsibility, and I declare official Leaf-raking Day at a moment's notice according to weather conditions. On Leaf-raking Day, I break out two hand rakes - a two-foot wide bamboo job and a smaller but stronger antique spring steel model left by my late mother-in-law.  Each rake has its special application and using them cooperatively works best.  The bamboo rake is great for moving large amounts of dry leaves in a short time.  The spring steel rake is stiffer and works best on rain-soaked leaves and small sticks constantly shed by those aging maples, along with small stones that migrate into the lawn from the gravel driveway. 

I also have a unique, disposal technique that has been a source of entertainment for passers-by for years.  On the first pass through with the bamboo rake, I make several piles arranged in a single row.  After that, I use the steel rake to gather the heavier debris, pile it into a wheelbarrow and tote it to the burn pile at the edge of the vegetable garden.  Then I get the tractor and manure spreader from the shed and park them on the lawn near the row of piles.  I pick up the leaves in bundles using the two rakes like an oversize salad set and drop them into the spreader.  When it's level full, I climb into it and walk down the load compacting the leaves as much as possible.  As I perform that task, people driving past the house slow down to get a better view of the crazy farm broad stomping back and forth in a manure spreader full of leaves on the front lawn of the bed and breakfast house. 

I add more leaves until the spreader box is overflowing and then tow it to a nearby corn field to spread them over the stubble left behind by the field chopper when my son filled the silos a month earlier.  When the lawn is sufficiently cleaned, the process is repeated in my sons front yard.  I try to pick a calm, cool and sunny day because the job takes the better part of the day and I really hate having to re-rake when the capricious wind blows the leaves helter-skelter while I work.  Whatever leaves might fall after that will be Mother Nature's responsibility. 

I have learned two important lessons regarding Leaf-raking Day.  First, as much as I might think my grandchildren would enjoy helping and playing in the leaf piles, their attention span on the job is only about ten minutes long.  Trying to get assistance from them beyond that is in vain.  Therefore, I avoid babysitting on Leaf-raking Day.   

Also, grownups are no different from children when it comes to raking someone else's leaves.  Sometimes, depending on my mood, I wave a friendly "how are you" when I notice people slowing down to watch.  Acknowledging their curiosity seems to intimidate them and they avoid eye-contact, speed up and move on.  A few times, when I notice a vehicle slowing down more than normal, I hold my rake up in the air and motion for the driver to come and help, which encourages them to speed up and drive on.  There was the one time when a man actually stopped and helped for a few minutes.  He told me he had seen me doing this several times over the years and wondered where I got the idea to use the manure spreader.  I told him it was a tradition that my late mother-in-law started long before I came to the farm.  Now when he goes by and I'm out raking leaves, he just toots his horn and waves as he drives past. 

After the work is done and it's time to relax, I'm thankful to have had adequate tools available and appreciative for the workout opportunity.  Retiring to my front porch swing, I admire my newly-cleaned lawn with a mug of peppermint schnapps-spiked hot chocolate in hand and my porch cat purring quietly on my lap as twilight approaches on another fall day in Wayne County, New York.


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