Late yesterday afternoon, as Carl and I were tackling removal of the last of the leaves, we were treated to a stunning November sunset. The western sky turned to radiant shades of orange and pink and then spread all around us. Wayward clouds quickly gathered into plump pillows against an azure backdrop. Our faces glowed in the honeyed light. The colors deepened as we stopped our work and stared, speechless, at this day’s magnificent last act.
Each year I approach leaf raking as something of a necessary evil. We are particularly afflicted given our towering, ancient trees. They are spectacular in every season, but they drop their load with revelry on our small yard each fall. The harvest has been over 90 bags of leaves most years. Of late, we’ve been able to drag huge tarps filled to bursting to our neighbor’s woods instead of carting them to the town dump. (Best. Neighbors. Ever.) Still, it’s a massive chore that takes days to complete.
I try hard to find the good in raking, enumerating the positives when the task seems particularly overwhelming. I have a strong back and two arms that function properly; I’m happy to work along side my husband, who is tireless; the mindlessness of raking affords me good thinking space; the woods are lovely and timeless. I admit, though, that a fair portion of the time I’m frustrated and annoyed and even resentful. Rake. Fill. Dump. Repeat.
“What about a billion?” I ask Carl as we pull our 18th load – or maybe it’s our 19th, I have lost track – of 100 pounds of leaves over the rock wall, across the neighbor’s yard, and into the woods. We unbind our burden and tip it over to one side to empty it.
“A billion what?”
“Leaves. Do you think this is what a billion of something looks like?” I don’t wait for him to answer. “I would love one of those visual analogies – like, we have so many leaves that if you laid them end-to-end they’d cross Massachusetts from Boston to Stockbridge. Or, if I turned them into a quilt I could lay them over the entire house.” Carl chuckles at my serious inquiry and looks bemused. He will not be counting leaves, or counting them as anything other than work, being the practical sage he is.
But I wonder, as I trudge down the path toward home, what if instead of rotting, brown detritus I could see each leaf as a blessing? In each a reminder that there is beauty and there is ugliness, one gives way to the other, over and over, in a season and in a life and in a world. We are here to witness moments of grace, to put our backs into the toughest parts, to share our burdens, and to love each other. From one sunset to the next, we are here to be thankful for all of it, all billion blessings.