Autumn leaves me exhausted

One week ago, I dragged our lawn mower back and forth across our front yard, not to trim the grass but to grind up the thick blanket of red, brown, yellow and green maple leaves.


I wouldn't even have bothered with the chore, but I felt guilty about the leaves that had strayed off my property and onto my neighbors' lawns on either side of mine. Maple trees make bad neighbors, I decided, so I tried to remedy the ugliness.

The job done, I sat on my front stoop to admire my handiwork. A small yellow butterfly flitted across the grass and landed on a blade, balancing itself with delicate wings. The day was warm, and I wiped my bandana across my face.

With the sweat, I also wiped away my look of satisfaction at a job well done, because my front yard was snowing. It was a blizzard of leaves from our three half-naked maple trees.

The slightest breeze would send a flurry of rusty, jagged maple leaves showering across my yard -- and my neighbors' yards.

I fetched our kitchen timer, determined to count the leaves that fell in a minute's time. Maybe I could calculate how many days it would be before I needed to mulch the leaves again.

I never got to a minute. By the time 30 seconds had passed, at least 72 leaves had left the safety of the branches and invaded the sanctity of my yard -- and those were just the ones I saw. There's no telling how many more leaves I missed from one tree while I was monitoring the others.

If that kept up, the yard would look as though it had never met my mower's blades.

A few days earlier, a neighbor's two young daughters had taped a flier to our mailbox -- "Two Girls, Two Rakes" -- offering their services to clean up leaves in the neighborhood. (At least, I hope it was directed at the entire neighborhood and not just our very messy yard.) I suppose I should put them on retainer until the rest of the leaves are dead and down.

If I haven't said it before, let me say it now: Don't ever plant a maple tree. I didn't set out our trees, but I have reaped the whirlwind of their droppings for years. I just can't seem to keep up with their output.

Maples have their good points. They make excellent shade; their full, colorful plumage in summer shines glorious; and the scientific precision of their winglike seed pods as they flutter to the ground is a sight to see.

Those same leaves and seeds, however, will hitchhike a ride with gravity pretty much the whole year round, making a rake and a mower mandatory.

Autumn's shorter days, reduced light and cooler air cause those maples to drain the nutrients from their leaves into the trees themselves.

Photosynthesis has taken a holiday, and green chlorophyll is overshadowed by shades of red and brown. Leaves once bright and vibrant are being evicted from the tree, too numerous to count.

Believe me, I've tried.



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