Earlier this week while enjoying some restful time on my front porch, my attention was drawn to the young man across the street who was diligently raking the leaves in his yard to the front curb. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my own youthful days back in Baltimore and the development of my love-hate relationship with leaf clean-up.
It seems we all go through some semblance of the same relationship with these fallen leaves. For most of us, it began as toddlers and that first exhilarating experience of falling into a pile of freshly raked leaves. I still remember that smell.
After several autumn seasons of youthful exuberance, our parents got wise and announced to us that if we wanted to enjoy the leaf pile we would have to rake them up ourselves. It seemed innocent enough at first, but we were unknowingly being coerced into years of manual labor.
By the time we reached our teen years, the thrill of jumping into a pile of leaves was all but gone. Nothing was left but the tedious chore of raking up scores of leaves and racking our brains continually to figure out an easier way to do so.
I remember once trying to rationalize my way out of the work with my Mom. One Saturday morning at breakfast I began a carefully orchestrated conversation that I was sure would release me from my bondage.
I began with a startling revelation: “Everything that God has created in nature really is perfect in all aspects.”
My somewhat surprised and pleased Mom responded, “You are right son; a perfect God creates perfect things.”
“Take the trees for instance; they are beautiful and perfect, aren’t they?” I asked. She had taken the bait, and I was reeling her in.
“Yes, son; perfect in every way.” She responded. “Why do you ask?”
“Well I was just wondering, if trees are perfectly designed, then the fact that their leaves fall to the ground each year is part of that perfect design. And if God had a plan for the leaves falling to the ground, shouldn’t we trust Him and His purpose and allow the leaves to stay where they fall?”
How could she argue with such brilliant logic?
There was a long pause as she pondered my youthful wisdom. Then she replied with a smile. “Nice try son. Oh, and by the way, I bought you a new rake last night.”
Nearly 50 years have passed, and I realize that my youthful attempt at wisdom was not so far from the truth. Any botanist or horticulturalist will tell you that in fallen leaves, nature provides us with perfect sources of both fertilizer and mulch.
According to National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski, “Fallen leaves offer a double benefit. Leaves form a natural mulch that helps suppress weeds and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down. Why spend money on mulch and fertilizer when you can make your own?”
Yet each year millions of us rake up the leaves and discard or burn them to attain a more “tidy” looking property. Then we go out and purchase fertilizer and mulch.
That’s not before many of us have spent a small fortune on whatever the new gimmick or gadget for leaf clean-up is on the market. We have blowers, backpacks, vacuums, tarps, mulchers, rakes or we simply pay a landscaper to come do the work for us.
Call me lazy in my old age, but wouldn’t it make more sense to simply mow over the leaves once or twice and allow them to do the work that nature intended them to do for us? Or if you need to have that clean tidy lawn, use the leaves in your garden beds, flower beds or for mulching rings around trees. A thick mulch in the fall can be an effective and simple way to build soil fertility for these areas.
I do realize that each property has its own unique characteristics and its own unique volume of leaf coverage. Some trees drop just a splattering of leaves, while others dump a measurable depth of decaying matter. But no matter which category you fall into, there is always room for us to think and be more environmentally aware and responsive.
Anyway, if these forecasts continue in the current pattern, we may not need to worry about leaves. They’ll be covered over in snow.
Think green. Stay wild.