Working nostalgia

The top layer of leaves is dry.

Lots of them are five-pointed like hands; back in late December they waved gayly at the breeze before dropping forty feet from the top of the skinny liquid-amber tree. Others are small, fat autumn teardrops from the ubiquitous, weed-like buckthorns, cedar-waxwingbeloved trees of cedar waxwings, quick gray squirrels and women called Wren.

The fallen leaves have filled up a corner of Mom’s back garden, carpeting the ripply pavers.  Messy, she says. So messy! So I reach out with my late father’s old steel rake and drop the tines where the wooden fence meets the ground. The leaves, five-pointed or teardropped, roll up as I pull the rake back.

The scent of rain and earth and clean decay rises to my nose and makes me suddenly, sharply homesick. My eyes tear up. I blink. Shouldn’t I be over this loss? The home I miss is twenty years behind me and hundreds—even thousands—of miles away. It’s history. That old world, filled with rain, wind and fog and green is long-gone.

Three weeks ago it stormed gently for three days. There was a mild wind and some rare, sweet, soaking rain. The TV weatherpeople were breathless and excited, and there were SEVERE WEATHER ALERTS on the computer. Most of the leaves fell from the trees back then. But it’s been California-dry ever since, so the top layer of the leaves I’m raking is crisp and crunchy.  The older, underlayer leaves are wet and heavy with rain-memories.

I scrape up three big piles with the old wooden-handled rake. Then, with rubber gloves protecting my hands, I scoop all the leaves, wet and dry, into three black plastic bags. I put those into a tall, green plastic bin with wheels. A truck will soon come to empty it.

I was surprised to learn that our local garbage collection company won’t take the garden leaves for composting unless they’re first bagged in plastic. It seems odd to me. Even counter-intuitive. Do they hire people to empty all those leaf bags into the composter and then send the bags away for plastic recycling? Or do they just grind the plastic bags up along with the leaves?

Someday, maybe the Earth’s soil will be made mostly of plastic. What will grow then? Will the waxwings have buckthorn berries to feast on each autumn? Will there even be waxwings?

When it rains, will the air smell of plastic instead of home?

6 thoughts on “Working nostalgia

  1. That is so funny! Our company won’t touch anything in plastic. All composting has to be in paper or the corn “plastic” bags. In fact when we began composting, we used the corn bags approved for composting and the compost folks left me a notice stating they don’t take plastic bags. I had to call the company and explain they were compost approved corn bags. the notices stopped.


    • I’ve never heard of corn bags, Adrienne! What a great idea! I’ll look for those and use them next time. I still have to bag the leaves, but at least I won’t feel guilty about adding yet more plastic to the environment. Thanks!


  2. It’s always interesting what stirs those long-ago memories. They say the sense of smell is one of the most powerful memory-provokers. I know when I read your lovely post, I grew a bit nostalgic myself. Thanks, friend, for sharing.


  3. I was there…right beside you raking those leaves and recollecting days gone by. For me recall is a two sided coin. On the one hand I love to remember things of years gone by but at times it also haunts me as to what things I have lost physically. But I too love to recall. Beautifully written.


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