I’m raking. It’s my mind and body workout in the fall. I’ve set the workout on my watch to “other,” since it doesn’t recognize raking as a legitimate workout. “Listen, watch, it’s definitely as much of a workout as taking a walk, especially with our pee-at-every-vertical-plant-or-post pooch.”
“I’m from California,” the watch responds. “We don’t rake that much.”
“Well, let me tell you, my arms burn after a while, and my heart rate is certainly elevated, so yeah, it’s a workout, okay?”
“Okay, fine, that’s why we have the “other” category. It’s for you oddballs who don’t have a gym membership or a Peleton.”
I don’t listen to music or podcasts while I rake. Instead, I have imaginary conversations.
Sometimes these conversations are with my trees. We have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan. I’ve mourned the demise of several old friends on our block over the past few years. I’ve celebrated the beauty of our local deciduous creatures. This year I’ve spent a lot of time admiring, photographing, and pointing out the brilliant foliage. I think my wife is tired of the constant interruptions during our walks as I ogle another spectacular maple. So, yes, I’m a fan of the reds and yellows and oranges blazing against the cool blue skies.
“You are looking spectacular this year,” I say to one of the swamp maples in our backyard. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so vividly orange.”
“Why thank you,” I imagine them replying. “It was kind of a rough summer, what with the lack of rain and with you refusing to water. But that rainy stretch last month seemed to give us a few extra weeks in that metaspace between green and brown.”
That’s when we’re on good terms, mid October usually. Things get a little rockier toward the end of the month. “Hey, bud, did you notice that I just raked this afternoon? Any chance you could wait a few days before you do that confetti thing again?”
“Look, dude, stop blaming me. I hold on as long as I can. There are other factors involved here. Have you considered complaining to the wind or to gravity or to the tilted planet?”
“Oh great, a maple tree with a science background.”
I don’t only converse with the trees during these raking sessions, though. During today’s workout I had the elections on my mind. I passed the time in an imaginary debate with my neighbor. I have never actually had a political discussion with my neighbor, but I have been informed by another neighbor that we would not agree on much. Things get fairly heated during these conversations. I’m pretty sure I know his Fox News talking points, so I’m fighting back with my NPR rebuttals. “Listen, your problem is that you’ve bought into that whole idea that all government is bad.”
“Uh, yeah,” he says, as though this is about as obvious as wind, gravity, and leaf piles.
“Well, I don’t think that’s true. Government isn’t just boondoggles and bureaucrats, you know. It’s roads and parks and libraries and fire departments and public pools and snow plows and schools, you know. I mean, I teach in a public school. I’m basically a government worker, and I work with great people, honest people, people who are definitely putting more back into the economy than they’re taking out. They’re building for the future.” I say much more, but you get the idea. I’m crushing this guy. He’s barely getting a word in. He’s crumbling like dried leaves. I’m pretty sure he’s swapping his Trump flag for an AOC tattoo.
If you’re imagining me losing my leaf raking focus during this debate, feet planted, vigorously (obsessively) scraping one small patch of lawn until I’ve dug a three-foot well, well, I can see how you might get that idea. Still, somehow auto-rake pulls me through. The piles are growing.
I’m so on track that the debate ends and now there’s a sportscaster in my head. “He’s really locked in, today. I see he’s doing his circular system. That’s a veteran move. Look at the rotation. First it’s the big clockwise route, encircling his foe, but I’m noticing he’s putting a lot of pressure on that left arm.”
“Well, he is a southpaw after all, so that’s to be expected.”
“Oh wait, he’s pivoting. Now he’s going counterclockwise in a smaller circle. That’s a new wrinkle. When did he become a switch raker?”
“I read some reports that he was doing a sort of new age training in the off-season. It’s really improved his versatility and his endurance.”
“That’s remarkable. Look at the pile he’s building. Ya gotta love the shrinking circle approach. Those leaves haven’t got a chance. It’s a clean sweep.”
In the end, I take a deep breath, surveying the tidy scene. The lawn hasn’t looked this pristine since spring. I lift my eyes to where I imagine my maple’s head would be. “There,” I say in that smug, British voice I like to adopt when I’m feeling superior. “I’ve bagged your leavings, my lawn is clear, and now I shall take my leave.”
Pretty happy with that parting shot.
I hoist my leaf bags and turn to go, but as I stride toward the gate, I swear I see that cheeky maple wave its one remaining leafy branch in my direction, a menacing glint in its hollows. It winks at its swaying sidekick and says, “Hold my ROOT beer. I gotta relieve myself on this dude’s lawn.”