Raking leaves in the front yard (garden) thinking of Robert Frost

I am in the front yard (garden) raking up leaves. It’s pretty thankless task this time of year when the large red and gold oak leaves fall in buckets and the tiny oval leaves (from some tree I don’t know) get in all the cracks, even walking themselves across our living room carpet. No sooner have you scooped one bag of leaves another seems to fall. Leaves cover the hedges, sneak up to the front door, layer the lawn like confetti.

I probably wouldn’t bother in the UK but here it feels like it’s expected. The stores are full of leaf bags which are collected weekly by the city. People line them up virtuously on their kerbside. The whirring motor of the leaf blower a common background noise.

I don’t use a leaf blower feeling more comfortable with the, more traditionally British, rake which is slightly unheard of here. But as I raise another rake full of tumbling leaves to put into the paper leaf sack a gust of wind catches it spraying back over the grass I have already raked.

It makes me think of a poem by Robert Frost – Gathering Leaves – where he says spades take up leaves no better than spoons. A rake is not much better than a spade or a spoon, even with my gloved hand trying to keep the leaves in check.

Just then my neighbor comes out and stops to admire my work. His lawn sits reproachfully next to mine tended daily to immaculate perfection. ‘Good job’ he says and waits for my reply. ‘Thanks’ I say and then add ‘seems endless’. ‘Its the time of year’ he replies mater of factly as if I should have known that I would be shovelling leaves daily all November and part of December. I scoop another rake full into my bag and looking at the huge pile of leaves still at my feet I say ‘I have heard that leaving leaves can actually help the plants ( it’s something my dad told me he heard on Gardeners Question Time on BBC Radio Four in the UK).

My neighbor frowns ‘not Oak Leaves’ he says and moves on as if this is the end of the matter. I am not so certain he is right. I feel the urge to abandon the leaves and go inside to google it and check. But decide this would not be helpful.

Instead, I go back to my leaves: reflecting that its better to impress him with my leaf control than argue with him about horticulture. But watching his departing back another poem of Robert Frost’s comes to mind. Mending Wall and the line ‘Good Fences make good neighbors’ . Here in the US unlike in most of the UK, front yards (or gardens) run into each other. No fence or wall separates his yard from mine. The leaves have no border control. I feel the impulse to defy convention and erect one. Taking a leaf out of Robert Frost’s poem. But when I look at Frost’s poem again I see that he is actually arguing against boundaries. It is his neighbor who insists on following the habitual maxim ‘Good Fences make good neighbors’. His neighbor who is unable to accept the logic that apple and pine trees will not trespass.

But the leaves of the apple tree will move, I reflect, they will cascade against the pine trees. Perhaps Robert Frost was idealistic to think we can exist without separating ourselves? His neighbor actually right to think that having clear lines between them will help them get along. I might extend our fence a little bit, I think, as more leaves escape flying towards my neighbor’s yard. Just a bit, just from the back edge to the front edge of the house as some houses do. Extend to limit the leaves – and the potential disagreement.

Gathering Leaves

By Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves

No better than spoons,

And bags full of leaves

Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise

Of rustling all day

Like rabbit and deer

Running away.

But the mountains I raise

Elude my embrace,

Flowing over my arms

And into my face.

I may load and unload

Again and again

Till I fill the whole shed,

And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,

And since they grew duller

From contact with earth,

Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.

But a crop is a crop,

And who’s to say where

The harvest shall stop?

Mending Wall

By Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

One thought on “Raking leaves in the front yard (garden) thinking of Robert Frost

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  1. Waking in the night, kand seeing…… Wales to Austin.in the inbox. ……….this is a different Time……. it has a different tempo. The small hours have a special mode of being. Reminds me of when we , Clare and I, went to Halesworth, when Tamsyn was dying….A very special Time. We knew we would never see her again. So did she. As if every moment was special. As she was special . As you were special., Kathy. Are special .

    Every ordinary moment could shine like this, but doesnt. We dont know., but then we did Jillxx. XxxxxxxxxxX Sent from my iPad



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