Friday, November 12, 2010

#276: Something Useful

It is important to be of use. Even if only to yourself. It is much more motivating for me to be of use to other people. I suppose my hunger for praise is unhealthy in a lot of ways, but I like it when someone else appreciates the things I do. A ham loves applause. It has felt good to drag myself to the drug store or around the dog park, but those things aren't of much use to anyone else. Today Jake and I hauled the rake out of the basement and swept up some leaves in the back yard.

I wouldn't say I finished the job, exactly. There are now three huge piles of leaves and dog poop killing three huge spots in my lawn. I need to bag them up, but I kind of ran out of energy. It isn't urgent. The Maple trees are still pretty full, preparing to undo all our work today. We'll get to it in the next few days. Besides, Jake is going to enjoy jumping in them for a while. Mrs P also likes to jump in the leaves, but since they started falling it has been difficult to clean up after our boy. I wouldn't advise any leaf diving in his yard.

When we were tired from raking, Jake and I sat down on the porch and felt the sun on our faces for a while. How quiet it was. Back in the spring the neighborhood was a symphony. Today all I heard were a few grackles squawking, some squirrels scolding one another, and some sort of constant undertone that sounded like cidadas or tree frogs. A few months ago it took real concentration to pick out individual voices. Today, they seemed to be taking turns, speaking one at a time so as not to interrupt one another.

And under it all is the sound of the leaves. Leaves clinging for dear life to the branches where they spent their green season. They seem to clench the trees, hoping to hold out just a few more hours against the autumn wind. Leaves on the ground, trembling in the breeze, or crunching under Jake's feet as he jumps and runs through them. In the woods, they would stay in their bed beneath the branches. The snow would come and spring would follow and the dust they left behind would nourish the trees from which they fell. But here, where grass grows perversely, right up to the base of the trunk, we have to sweep them up and cart them away. We want forest and meadow at the same time, in the same place. This is the way decent people keep their yards. Weed free. Leaf free. Mowed and edged and manicured. This is why I am such a bad neighbor. I would rather let it grow. I would rather see the grass tall and the trees full of life and the hedges wild and bushy. I know I can't keep my yard like that. My neighbor's property values would plummet. These chores are just part of suburban life.

I love the woods, but I love the city, too. Maybe that's the problem. The suburbs are neither fish nor fowl. Your dog is surrounded by things to bark about and every bark irritates someone. You can get to the store or a movie or the theatre, but you have to drive and park and eat boring burgers out of boring bags. Here I have a house and a yard, but I wonder if this is how people ought to live. Camped out in parcels of earth that they don't really own. Passing neighbors they don't really know. Spending so much time and money just to keep things looking right.

I know, I know. This is the American Dream. It's the way I was raised, and it's how I'll probably spend the rest of my life. But sometimes, I miss the sound of taxis and ambulances. Just as much as I miss fields of snow and the voice of a flowing creek and the songs of more birds than I can recognize at one time. I love walking the canyons of Manhattan. I also love driving the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. This suburban middle ground just doesn't feel like home today. Maybe it'll better when there's snow to shovel. At least you don't have to put that in big brown bags on the curb.

Well, that outburst sort of took me by surprise. Didn't expect to get all worked up about it. I just thought I was going to write about raking leaves with my dog. For now, at least they are in neat piles. That's progress, I guess.



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