21 May 2014

on sweeping up autumn leaves



I’ve confessed before that this is my favourite time of the year. We’ve left behind the glare and heat of summer (such as it is in Hobart) and even though the days are getting shorter and the evenings cooler, we haven’t yet been plunged into the dark drag of winter.


The other reason I love autumn is the deciduous leaves, in all their glory, from rich fiery reds to golden glowing yellows; large flag-like shapes to small, intricate specimens. My route to work has many fine trees and shrubs and even vines, making the start and end of my working day a beautiful journey.

But here’s another autumnal confession: I love sweeping up those fallen leaves. Actually, I love any kind of sweeping out in the garden, but in this season, I get to indulge in this gardening chore — well, it seems, all the time.

On the weekends, I like to start my ‘working’ day by sweeping the small undercover area outside my back door, which collects the long golden leaves of my peach and nectarine trees. Then I move methodically along the pathways around the house and in the backyard, again picking up the fruit tree leaves.

Then I start in the driveway out the front, which runs the length of my block. Here it is the larger, flatter leaves of my ornamental blossom tree. Sadly the delicate, finely serrated leaves of my cut-leaf birches are long-gone — those still-young trees are fully exposed to the winds that roar up my street, and theirs are the first leaves to be carried off. And the ruby foliage of my young viburnum shrub was lost overnight, blown off by ghastly winds. Here one day, gone the next, before I could take a photo of it.

Sometimes I follow this pattern again in the afternoon, to tidy away any end-of-day leaf fall; or perhaps I’ll just do a quick go down the driveway.

So that is the how and the when, but what about the why? Why do I find this task so appealing?

I suspect that, like doing the dishes or the weekly laundry, it’s a sense of imposing order and neatness over my world (though it is admittedly Sisyphean at times, when, as fast as I sweep, the wind throws more leaves to my feet. But if I’ve set my mind to sweep now, I’ll pigheadedly refuse to admit defeat and down my broom). It’s satisfying to clear away the fallen leaves and other garden debris from the driveway and literally have a clean sweep.

The brisk, repetitive motion is also an enjoyable form of exercise. Back and forth, to and fro, walking up and down: it’s steady and calming. I saw a neighbour use one of those contraptions that look like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and set of bagpipes — and I’m not sure whether it was sucking or blowing — but I thought, where are the cardiovascular benefits in that? And the noise! Blasting away the peace! When the neighbourhood is quiet, just the birds twittering and the rhythmic sound of straw bristles brushing the concrete, it gives me time to think.

Because sweeping can be very conducive to contemplation (perhaps it is my suburban version of Buddhist walking meditation?). The morning sweep: my mind is still foggy with sleep, thinking about what gardening or household chores are ahead of me, assessing the state of the garden — now that the days are shorter, I don’t see my garden during the working week, and this is my gentle reunion with it. It’s a good opportunity to take stock of the weather, the birds, the garden, the neighbourhood, and I guess, me. Those repetitive movements can lull one into introspection. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing with my life, what I could be doing; sometimes I compose sentences and turn over phrases and tweak words, not with a red pen in my hand but a broom. Mowing the lawn certainly doesn’t inspire such quiet moments of reflection, or such a sense of calm, purpose, order. I shall be sad when the autumn leaves have completely fallen and finished, and not just because of the bare branches they leave behind. I will no longer have quite so much sweeping to do.

12 comments:

  1. I completely understand the meditative nature of your leaf sweeping but those blower/sucker things drive me mad. Lovely to compare the rich autumn colour of your leaves with the bright green new growth of ours - one of the reasons I love reading blogs.

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    1. hello anne! i'm enjoying reading northern hemisphere blogs like yours for that reason, too - i'm sure seeing all your greenery and pretty flowers will get me through a dark, bare hobart winter.
      i wonder what those blower/sucker things are actually called?!

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  2. You know what, I grew up surrounded by pin oaks and we would always sweep the leaves. A beautiful post. By the way, check your email asap! : )

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    1. hello lizzy,
      in my speed to answer you last night it appears i didn't actually do so ;-)
      thank you for your kind words and i have!
      oaks of any variety are just magnificent, and they would have created huge wonderful piles of leaves to sweep - and to kick and crunch and play in!

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  3. Lovely post .. Isn't it funny what can become therapeutic. We have loads of leaves here :)

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    1. i'll be over then, frogpond; i'll even bring my own broom!
      thank you :-)

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  4. Lovely autumnal photo of the broom and bucket of leaves! Ad you're right, there is something meditative about gathering them together. Do you make leaf mould with your sweepings?

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    1. hellloo GD. i usually just deposit the leaves on the garden beds below them, to rot down eventually. but this year i started a pile in one of the holes left by our recent tree removals, and i covered it with some shadecloth - to hold it down but still let the air and rain at it. i wonder if this is the right thing to do? or shoudl i keep it completely dry? i shoudl do some research.

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  5. I find most household duties theraputic sweeping, laundry and especially washing the dishes. For me washing the dishes gives me the chance to play in the water, iam not sure why i love it so much. Mind you I hate putting them away. Autumn leaves are my favourite too though we don't get to see it so much here in qld as there are far more rainforest plants than the deciduous variety. Great post.

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    1. we are very much alike then, lizzie! there's a great satisfaction in putting away the clean folded and wiping down the benches after the last dish has been washed :-)
      in a month of so when all the trees are bare here, i will be wishing i lived in a lush green rainforest...

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  6. Ooops! guilty as charged. I use my blower / sucker thingy as it grinds the leaves up nice and small so they compost down quicker.....Our lychee leaves dont turn pretty colours, they just turn brown and drop.

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    1. oh, i had no idea those thingies ground the leaves up - that's pretty impressive. i could do with that.

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