Ravens-free weekend leads to another autumn ritual

October 16, 2004|By ROB KASPER

IT IS A BYE weekend, with no Ravens game, and as Baltimore's football team pauses to repair and renovate its parts, we homeowners do the same.

With Sunday afternoon free of football-watching obligations, there is an opportunity to whittle down the list of seasonal chores.

Mostly these are duties I would rather dodge. Raking leaves, for instance, makes me feel like Sisyphus, the figure in Greek mythology who spent eternity rolling a boulder up a hill. Just as he neared the top of the hill, the boulder would slip and roll back to the bottom, forcing Sisyphus to start all over again.

The same thing happens with me and the leaves. As soon as I clear a patch of ground, the wind blows, the trees shake and a shower of new-fallen foliage descends. More than once, I have found myself out in the back yard, shaking my fist at the trees and yelling "Sisyphus!" at the heavens.

Mother Nature is amused, I think, by this annual dance between vegetation and man. Some years she teases us into a false sense of well-being. This fall, for instance, has been glorious, filled with warm, crystalline afternoons, the kind of weather that makes you feel that - like the grasshopper in the fable of the grasshopper and the ant - you have nothing to worry about. But then, as happened yesterday, the skies darken, the wind shifts, and it becomes all too apparent that you had better get hopping.

As someone who studies squirrel behavior - don't knock it unless you have tried it - I have noticed that this fall the squirrels have been especially active, chewing and burying. This is a harbinger, I think, of a bitter winter. I'd bet a hill of walnuts on it.

Spurred on by the squirrels, I felt the need this week to take a few initial swipes at the leaves.

In recent years, leaf removal strategy has been dominated by the "mow 'em and blow 'em" school of thought. It advocates using powerful, noisy machines and either pulverizing the leaves or employing the laws of physics and property lines to scoot them to someone else's jurisdiction. One of the commandments of yardwork is "Thou shall not blow leaves onto thy neighbor's lawn [at least during daylight]." Among the landed classes, a wiser method of leaf disposal, I have been told, is to form a partnership with nature, especially nearby forests. When I asked one well-foliaged fellow I know who lives near Loch Raven Reservoir what he does with his leaves, he quoted the poet Robert Frost: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep."

As for me, a guy with a modest amount of leaves and land, I try to treat the leaves as potential mulch and to treat myself to a frosty beverage at day's end.

The key overriding principle in leaf removal, I believe, is to amply reward the raker. The ideal leaf removal package should offer a combination of on-the-job delights, such as the chance to operate loud machinery, and after-hours dividends, such as the aforementioned frosty beverages. If the goal is that no leaf should be left behind, the raker must be fully compensated.

One of the drawbacks of seasonal work is that one chore tends to lead to another. When, for example, you tote a bag of pulverized leaves to the garden, you are confronted with more autumnal tasks that await your attention.

The basil has to be picked before the first hard frost turns it into bushes of black debris. The dead tomato and bean plants have to be yanked out, and that somehow reminds you of yet more yanking-out duties. The air conditioners have to be pulled from some bedroom windows - which, in turn, prompts you to remember that soon you have to go on caulk patrol. Armed with a cartridge gun loaded with a tube of caulk, you will prowl the perimeter of the house, looking for gaps in the exterior to plug.

It can seem overwhelming, especially since there is only one bye weekend each season. So you make do, you find one or two projects you can complete, something you can cross off the to-do list. This weekend, for instance, after raking some leaves, I planned to devote several hours to delirious celebration as the Boston Red Sox swept the New York Yankees and took the American League championship. It now appears that the delirious celebration of a Sox title is one task I can cross off my list, at least for this weekend.

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