Not deferential enough: Five, six

Posted Wednesday, August 31, 2011 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: Five, six

by Gina Hamilton

Wouldn't it be loverly to live somewhere where you never had to clean up after a natural event, where nature took care of everything that needed taking care of?

Of course, there is no such place. Or is there? 

As I pick up sticks in my yard, re-stake pepper plants, fix tomato cages and try to rescue the raspberry bramble, I wonder how nature got along without us as well as it did for as long as it did.

Of course, nature doesn't care whether there are sticks lying around the grassy lawn, or whether the standing water in the sand buckets might breed mosquitoes, and it certainly doesn't care about stray leaves everywhere.

And why do we?  Of course we're hardwired to pick up windfall apples and things; that has a survival interest.  I understand draining the buckets so mosquitoes don't breed.  Likewise, maybe a survival or at least an annoyance interest.  Cutting limbs that are about to fall on our heads, ditto.

But raking leaves? Picking up twigs that are too small to trip over? What's that all about?

I don't know.  Why do we want the outdoors to be clean?

Hey, people. The outdoors is not clean.  There are wild animals living in it and doing god knows what in it.  Bacteria are everywhere.  Fungi constantly break down dead tissue in nature's great recycling center.  Many of us acknowledge and celebrate this with our very own composter.  We use this stuff - laden with bacteria and fungi and the castings of living worms and maybe chicken manure - to make our gardens grow.  We EAT the stuff that grows in it and congratulate ourselves on living next to nature, organically in the best sense of the word.

But if the wind blows a little, why, there we are, picking up sticks and coralling them in our brush pile, where those self-same processes do their magic, a little more slowly, undoubtedly, but just as surely.  There we are, sweeping our decks and raking our leaves and making our yards look as neat as the proverbial pin.

Do other animals do these things? I try to envision a squirrel, say, tsking as it cleans the moss off its local branch, or a porcupine shaking its head in dismay at the matted grass left over after the first frost. No, we're unique ... not because we talk or make tools or have opposible thumbs, but because we clean the outside of our nests.  And we do it without any reproductive purpose in mind. 

Heck, we invent infernal machines to clean it with - blowers and hand-held Pac-Man looking things to pick up leaves.  We buy chippers and loppers and all kinds of things to remove items from our gardens that nature would remove anyway.

But don't the neighborhoods look nice once it's done? I really can't argue that there isn't an improvement.

This is possibly a build-up to my annual rant about raking leaves, which I do every year, even though I find it the silliest thing humans have ever devised to waste a perfectly lovely autumn afternoon.  I mean, as soon as you're done, they just blow in from someone else's yard, or it takes the city too long to pick them up and the paper bag falls apart in a rainstorm, or it snows, and there they lie until spring.

Back when I was a kid, you could burn leaves.  There was this autumn tang in the air that really meant that winter was well on its way, and a snap-crackle-pop in the various yards, and one's mother complained bitterly about the soot on the laundry, and this is probably the last time she can hang clothes out to dry before winter, and the brothers of the neighborhood alternated between getting too close to the fires and throwing the football around in sweaters that were too warm for the exercise, but which moithers insisted upon.  It was a ritual of a more innocent time.

I know why we don't do it now ... it's not only bad for the air quality, it removes the beneficial aspect of the leaves' decompsition and returning their nutrients to the soil.  But if that's the case, shouldn't they stay on the ground until nature has her way with them?

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