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, beloved 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?