It started wth the leaves. For once, I decided to gather them up rather than leave them to blow into the vacant lot next door, or up against the cedars that line my side yard. This was my purported reason for grabbing the rake.
Then I decided to bag them. Inexplicable, given the volume. Next thing you know, I had eighty-five bags. Eighty-five.
One day my neighbour Sue stopped to say hello while out on an afternoon walk with her husband.
“You need some help,” she said, looking at me standing in an ocean of leaves.
I smiled. “I’m happy just to be outside,” I said.
And I was happy. It was an unseasonably warm day, and I didn’t want any help. Good thing, too, because help doesn’t tend to arrive unannounced. For all intents and purposes, I live alone, my daughters attend university in a city two hours away and my itinerant husband passes through for a handful of days every few weeks. When he does arrive home, I still find myself outside.
“I’m going out to rake leaves,” I’ll say, leaving him to his own devices. I’m going to pull weeds and move rocks. To wander aimlessly in the yard and contemplate the sky. I don’t try to explain it.
This much I do know: It’s not about how the yard looks.
After the leaves are gathered and bagged, I begin pruning trees. We have dozens upon dozens of trees, sugar maple and dogwood, mountain ash and linden, cedars galore and a forest full of twenty-five foot white pine. I am one small woman with a set of loppers and only two hands. That doesn’t stop me. I pull on my steel-toed workboots, zip up my hoodie and step out the door. I lop off limbs and cut them into kindling size lengths. I make a huge pile of brush – once, twice, three times – that my friend Steve will turn into mulch. I clip, and I chop, and I feel the soft pine needles under my feet. I am happy out here.
One day in the midst of my limb-clipping, I notice the remnants of a make-shift fort my daughters built years ago. Without thinking, I trim the excess branches off the tree limb I’m holding and lay it along side theirs.
Then it dawns on me what I am doing.
“I’m going outside to play!”
When I was a kid, that’s what I’d yell to my mother, then I’d run out the back door and into the yard. When I was eight, I’d grab a rubber ball to bounce under my knee and against the wall of the house, or I’d hop on my skateboard, the red Freeformer, and I’d ride in endless loops around the driveway. When I was ten, I’d clamber up the weeping willow tree in the back yard. At twelve, I’d grab a snow shovel and work away on the toboggan run I’d built in our backyard, a trail with banked curves snaking downhill through two neighbours’ yards, .
Now here I am clipping excess twigs from pine branches so that I can lay them along the wall of a fort that my kids built here years ago. I look around, and all I can see is potential: paths to be cleared so we can snow shoe or ski, with little cul-de-sacs here and there where grand-kids might hide and play. I imagine lanterns in the night time. Hours of hours of work await me. But it isn’t work at all, is it? And that’s not a question.
I’m raking leaves. I’m pruning trees, but really I’m not. I’m running outside to play.