Thursday, November 9, 2023

A Harvest of Dry Leaves

For the last little while, my autumns have had a different rhythm.

When we first moved into our little suburban home, fall was a season of raking and leafblowing, as the dozens of mature trees that fill the rear third of our quarter acre shed their leaves.  Leaf piles would be made, then loaded onto tarps, then dragged out to the street to be vacuumed up and away by the county.

It was good hard work, but it always felt a little pointless, particularly when my boys reached the age when they no longer flung themselves bodily into the leaf piles.  Leaves fell, and I raked, and big trucks with vacuum attachments arrived to take them away.  It felt like a slog, just part of a machine.  

Now, though, I look up in the early autumn at the first tint of leaves, and I'm eager for them.

For nearly a decade now, I've mowed up the leaf-fall with my mulching mower, at least the leaves that fall on the wildly heterogenous ground cover that passes for my lawn.  The ground beneath the trees...again, about one third of my lawn...goes untouched, making for both good habitat and richer soil for the trees themselves.

The leaves I do mow are dumped into one of two five-by-twelve compost heaps in the shade of my back yard, where they sit for a year, mingling their carbon with twelve months worth of nitrogen-rich lawn clippings, the leavings from my kitchen, and a years worth of coffee grounds.  

That pile rising up waist-high in my back yard this season will slowly shrink.  Through the labors of billions of aerobic bacteria and tens of thousands of worms, it will transform into wheelbarrows full of rich, organic soil for my garden in the year 2025.  It becomes my tomatoes, squash, and beans.  It becomes my potatoes, garlic, and basil.  This next year, it may become okra, too, because bhindi masala is very delicious.

The leaves aren't debris.  They're not trash, to be taken away.  They're not a nuisance.  They're a harvest that feeds me.

When they tumble from the branches, rustling down like a brittle rain on the first sharp winds of winter, I receive them like manna from heaven.