Reflections upon fallen leaves

Nick Della Volpe
Features columnist

Nature’s cycles.

Fall means raking leaves, at least in my hilltop yard, which is surrounded by mature oak trees, as well as dogwoods and ornamentals. Those giants are not like my Chilhowee Drive neighbor’s modest-sized gingko tree. The gingko’s leaves turn a brilliant gold in the fall, then almost overnight, drop to ground, blanketing its base in gold.

Brilliant but fleeting. One session and you’re done. My oak trees demand more attention. They parcel out their brown bounty over several months, from November through year’s end. A sea of leaves, that would mound knee deep if left unattended.

Not here.

Armed with blower, rake and tarp, I roll up my sleeves and get to work. Repetitive. Satisfying in a certain way. Gradually the lawn below re-emerges. If I can get to them before heavy rain and matting, I can blow leaves into windrows, then rake them onto a tarp and drag them to their final resting place.

Many end up at the curb for the city to pick up. But significant others are hauled back to the garden. This natural mulch will be turned under in spring to enrich the soil, sprinkled with lime to neutralize their acidity and left to decompose.

Humus to break up dense clay soil and feed summer tomatoes, peppers, beans, herbs and other fresh produce. A biologist once told me some 70 percent of a tree’s nutrients are in the leaves. In a forest they decompose at the base of the tree and nurture it. Our lawns (such as they are) need sunlight … and raking. But why not use them to enrich the garden? Return them to mother nature.

Hours of routine raking set my mind to wandering … among other things about the cycle of life.

Are we like the trees? What are we doing with our lives?

For oak trees, spring-sprouting buds force off their carapaces, shed their wiggly catkins and yellow pollen (ugh) and cover the branches in working green … chlorophyll to convert sunlight into plant food. Fall acorns feed the squirrels (and germinate new trees), and cascading leaves fall to the ground and complete the annual cycle.

What about us?

Our lives track a parallel path. No sprouting leaves, of course. Yet we go through comparable phases of growth, maturation, production and eventually we too fail and return to the earth. Have we contributed something of worth to those around us? Raised a family? Built something of ongoing value? Lent a helping hand to others? Planted a tree? What have we done in the spring and summer of our lives?

There are more questions than answers. Gosh, that’s heavy lifting for a leaf-raking weekend.

I’d like to think we can leave the earth a better place than we found it. I suppose only those who follow behind us can truly say. Oh well, back to raking. …

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