The gardeners didn’t show up last week. Just plain didn’t bother to come. Earlier this year after losing yet another crew, I was so desperate for help I went out into the streets walking up and down the neighborhoods looking for someone else. I found some men working on a yard a few blocks away and asked if they would help me, and they came the next day and then faithfully every Thursday since late April to mow, edge the lawn and other simple chores.
Finally! I thought I found good, honest, dependable, hardworking men who wouldn’t just disappear one day. I admit they aren’t perfect. They plow through everything– ramming the huge mowers through the tiny side entrance to the garden, often breaking rose canes, bumping into the Nicotiana and zinnias without a care for the beautiful drooping blooms, that maybe they could be a little more gentle with, or mow around. I suppose plowing through quickly is what you have to do when you work on fifteen to twenty yards a day, especially in 90 degree heat and humidity, or wind and freezing cold. Just to get by.
But I’m speechless as to why they just stopped coming. I gave them coffee, cakes, grapes, bananas, pizza, sandwiches, and treated them with respect and consideration. I know how hard they worked so I always offered food or drink when I had something.
I called Roberto twice asking him to please call, let me know if he and Jose quit or are sick. Just tell me anything, something. He didn’t return any of my calls. Worse than being rejected by a lover.
I’m so disappointed. They disappeared when I needed them so badly. The warm weather has kept the grass growing and there are thousands of leaves around every bush, tree and flowerbed. Because they didn’t come last week or this week, the yard is covered in a thick carpet of scarlet, maroon, orange and brown. So beautiful but so much work to gather. And, if you have allergies or are not a big strong person anymore it’s difficult to do— especially with a rake. Because I will not use a leaf blower. Ever.
I sat at my desk feeling overwhelmed by all the work outside. I didn’t feel mentally or physically fit, a ton of worries on my frazzled head. Through the closed doors and double windows I heard the screeching roar of a leaf blower in the yard behind mine and that made me want to go out even less. Oh the leaf blowers! I have complained and complained over the years, written about them, discussed them with friends, cursed them, banged my fists into the desk furiously while trying to work, covered my ears like a mad woman while wandering in my house trying to find a quiet room, anything to drown out their noise– all useless because they just scream and scream and scream. I have walked around town on a beautiful summer, fall or spring day or evening, surrounded by the wailing, roaring , screeching, diesel spewing breath of them. Wondering how anyone in their right mind could have even conceived the notion of such a thing, much less use it for something as sacred, as beautiful, as sublime as gardening.
Then one day you go out for a walk and don’t hear them don’t smell them and you almost weep at the beauty and peace of life outdoors without them.
I always ask the men who work in my garden to please use rakes or keep the blowers to a very brief minimum. It is impossible to find gardeners who will not use them, or if they don’t they will triple charge. They don’t appreciate using rakes. They look at you like you’re crazy if you ask them to. They don’t get it. For them it is a waste of time and energy and I do consider this, but at what cost? Some gardeners actually look like they enjoy the blowers, walking around the sidewalks and driveways and paths holding up the long hoses like it’s one of their favorite appendages or best friends. Like the bikers who go roaring down the streets delighting in the explosions of sound, smoke and power they leave behind.
I tried to get myself together, literally dragging myself outside for the huge task ahead. Crawling barely, like a worm, to the back door. I walked out and into the garden… and then suddenly, just by the sheer act of walking out into it, my mood shifted completely. I opened the garage door, gathered my gardening tools and felt energized. Just looking at the old weathered tools made me feel better. The wide red plastic rake, light as a feather, the old spindly wire one for small spaces, the dust pan, the broom. I felt a thrill of happiness just looking at them, holding them.
The smells in the garden, even though I was masked, were unworldly. I could feel the smells and almost taste them. Like standing in some ancient vineyard in Soviet Georgia watching the old garden gnome mixing berries and grapes (there are still tiny sweet grapes clinging to the old vines that the birds and squirrels didn’t eat) grass and clover, geranium leaves, fallen zinnias, milkweed pods and sunflowers, the biting marigold smell of chrysanthemums. The cool damp air was perfumed by his huge black cauldron steaming away like witch’s brew, permeating every inch of my misty garden….
The leaf blowers next door stopped and instantly the world transformed— as though each and every bird and tree and leaf and shrub and flower breathed a sigh of relief. Oh the feeling of the autumn evening slowing coming on, the sudden beautiful hush as the sun faded quickly leaving me in a dusky orange world where all I heard was my rake softly moving across the lawn. I built bigger and bigger mounds of small perfectly oval scarlet leaves, each one separate like a grain of sand. The rake– how I loved the rake! It was light and wide and you could gather a huge mound of leaves in an instant. It was quiet! It made music! It was perfect!
The rhythm of moving it slowly, quietly, down the leafy lawn was like a dance lulling me into a peaceful dreamy state. A joyful state. Like a child running outside to play on the first warm day of spring. Suddenly it wasn’t work. I started to move whole mountains of leaves, piling them into bags with a dustpan — the leaves seemed almost human, like lost souls each and every one. They made a light crinkling, rustling sound like taffeta dresses whooshing down a polished floor, their dancers long gone, the leaves the beautiful garments they left behind. The dancers like spirits I felt still roaming in the garden going on another journey somewhere like geese in the fall.
It was growing darker and darker but still the grass gleamed a deep green and in the distance I heard other leaves scuttling down the sidewalks like crabs in the ocean. A gentle breeze appeared suddenly and lifted up the big maple leaves like golden butterflies. Even the cars on the streets sounded muffled and far away, almost floating by like ghosts. All I saw was the rusted fading sunlight, the muted sky, the hidden stars, the astonished moon astonished maybe at the sudden silence, the sound of a lonely rake rattling down the pebbly driveway. The driveway was easy to rake even though it is gravel. I ran the rake lightly along the top of the leaves– it was like skimming foam from soup –the leaves gathering themselves in long ribbony masses, almost sliding themselves into the dust bin and bags to be taken to their final resting place near the curb.
As always in the garden when I am walking or wandering or working I just want to keep on and on. It is never hot or cold or tiring or dusty or dirty or too windy. If there were a million leaves I would rake them all.It was almost completely dark but still I raked and raked not wanting to stop hearing the sound of the leaves, now silken now rushing like water down some endless stream, the sound of work, quiet work, clean work, pure work. Gardening the way it was meant to be.
Oh thank you gardeners for not coming! Thank you gardeners for disappointing me! Thank you gardeners for reminding me how sweet it is in the autumn to push these leaves with a rake, running the rake through the grass like a comb, in your beloveds long and lovely fragrant hair…the grass emerging green as emeralds and smelling sweet as summer days after the rain…
I was transported to another time a quieter, simpler calmer time. Things happened then too, murders and mayhem, wars and disasters, but the noises we have in this modern world, the noise we create when we do something simple and sacred like gardening to save a few dollars to save a few minutes. This is all wrong. Noise, pollution, pesticides and toxic fertilizers have no place in a garden. Some things in this modern world are not good, are not really fast and efficient, but in the long haul create more problems than they solve. All over the world are long lines of weary anxious demented people wandering around pulling out their ears and eyes and hair not knowing ever what it is like to walk outside in the once fragrant unpolluted air.
I wonder sometimes if God has a garden. Often coming home from work in the dark or leaving early in the almost dawn I would smell the leaves and grass and flowers, the scents swirling around me like a secret perfume no one has mastered yet. And I wondered how this perfume was made and from what garden. The very clouds and the rain and air are perfumed so sweetly so freshly with such rare blooms and herbs, the slow and steady distillation of so many millenniums. I sometimes feel that he is watching me as I walk and inhale the fragrance from his heavenly dispensary and wonder if he sits too in a garden watching the birds and the insects, if he sits and dreams of other worlds and other perfumes, other gardens, and if there is a solitary worker there who rakes the leaves and flowers and stems, pine cones and pods and seeds of these million years. Surely there is no noise, just the music of the birds and the breezes and the garden is so quiet you can hear the trunks of trees creaking not with age but sighs of pleasure.
As I gathered the leaves in my garden each and every one a perfect oval jewel still slightly breathing, exuding a moist and earthy fragrance, it felt like I was gathering thousands of souls and helping them to pass on to another place, and that I was purifying my own soul, brushing away my sins, like one preparing the earth for next spring’s grasses, trees and flowers. Each leaf I raked was each and every sin that I committed in my long and troubled life and each and every leaf was each and every sin that I was cleaning away to purge the blackness deep inside of me.
Total darkness fell and I put rake and bags and broom and dustbin away. The light from the garage momentarily lighting up the newly combed garden. All quiet and shining and green like Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill” . That glorious paean to his lost youth in Wales.
A little cricket was peeping somewhere in the dark as I walked to the back door and seemed to be murmuring “I’m still here”.