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Posted In: Features

Lesson in the leaves: Give to grow

Scott Turner

November 30, 2013 2:23pm

Damn those leaves!

We drive back from church on a cool November morning and are ushered into our driveway by the rush and rustle of car-blown leaves. The front yard is buried beneath a thick blanket of the freshly fallen. A brand new blanket, this is.

Leaf-rakingI had cleared the previous layer away just the other day, but my trees continue tossing away the 2013 hand they were dealt, showering so many layers of discard that it’s hard to believe all of this spent machinery was so recently above my head being actively employed for sun-energy acquisition, re-processing, packaging, and storage.

It’s only just after noon, but it feels like late afternoon when I step from the car. In the winter the sun never seems to get fully launched, and its low, misfired trajectory above the southern horizon gives me the impression that the day is in a state of constant waning.

SLAM!!! I am startled by the first peace-piercing collision of metal on metal as one of my wild things violently flings the car door shut to emphasize her current emotion. I am fully prepared for and even expecting the second…SLAM!

My two daughters are as dissimilar as they are distinct. The older is quiet and reserved, the younger boisterous and outgoing. Equal in significance, but as opposite in charge as a proton and an electron, and the best I can ever hope for is that they assume a comfortable, stable orbit around one another, or that together they become a manageable atom. Those are good days when that happens, and most of our days are good days. But when circumstance excites them into an elevated or high-energy state, they often become anything but manageable, and the return to stability usually involves wild spurts of energy release, vocal exclamations, and emphatic, full-body demonstrations like the slamming of doors.001_024

As I carefully intercept with my hand the collision of wood on wood behind Brooke’s entry into the house, my critical eye falls again on the leaves covering the front yard and reports back to the head-judge a modified assessment. It takes a good while to clean all that up, I recall, and Amy knows it needs to be done. Good. In the leaf-covered front yard I see now a chance for escape, and after following the girls inside to find that the old “family unit” is dividing into fractions, I divide, separate, and carry my own fraction out the front door and lay my hands on a rake. 

Aaah. That’s better. It feels good to be out here. I have always loved the smell of dry leaves — makes me think of more carefree times when a large pile of these things represented a new piece of playground equipment. The air is perfect, today. Bug-free and fully supportive of human exertion. Damn. I havn’t “exerted” enough lately. Feels good to be moving. Tension pulses from my body with each turn of the shoulders, and each scratch of the rake. My head begins to clear. I begin to take better notice of my mental and physical surroundings.   

Don’t get the wrong idea about that “coming home from church” stuff.  We rarely go there by choice, but are lured there often enough by the none-to-subtle machinations of the Westhampton Baptist Church Minister of Music – my Mother. On Wednesday nights, after releasing Amy and I to enjoy a just-the-two-of-us-dinner, she works hard to teach my children the joy of singing, and maybe even the joy of singing about God. Then she schedules as many Sunday morning performances as would appear reasonable, and then a few more after that, knowing all the while that we, like the parents of the other little singers, will at least find our way to church for these Sunday morning concerts. This morning my two unmanageable girls got themselves under control just enough to stand in front of the small congregation, to look beautiful, and to sing with smiling faces.

Following the singing there is a message. Sometimes when I go to church, I hear a representation of how the creator intended this place, this earth, to work. On this Sunday morning the lesson is about tithing and stewardship. It seems that today is “Stewardship Sunday”, one special day of the year when Baptists talk about giving-back even more than they talk about giving-back on all the other Sundays. A tithe of money is spoken of, but this preacher tries to explain that a tithe isn’t always in the form of dollars. The importance, he explains, is to recognize whatever it is we have been given in abundance, and to shed off or offer a bit of that back for the good of all.  He explains how the creator intended us to give back with mind, heart, and effort, if not with wallet, for the very enrichment of the soil of humanity surrounding and supporting us.

These trees around me in the front yard don’t need church because these trees are the church. And the many layers of leaves are not, in fact, a discard. The Leaves are an offering!  Each green path my rake creates on the earth today is soon re-speckled with a fresh shower of colorful gifts.  If I left these gifts where they fell they would re-fertilize the earth. They would in successive years create a thick, spongy layer of humus that would capture and hold moisture.  They would become food for micro-organisms vital to healthy forest eco-systems. This tree give-back, this original model of earth stewardship, would create rich soil, and out of rich soil could grow great things, including the givers themselves and their offspring! What we have here, my good brothers and sisters, is a system of “give-to-grow.”

Kids Jump in LeavesYeah. That’s the same damn thing the pastor was talking about this morning. Only a different type of giver, and a different type of soil, and a small audience of mostly older humans, some of whom have being practicing this system their entire lives. I assume these elder statesmen of give-to-grow are still growing spiritually, and will be to the last. I suppose each of these has grown to become a great human.

And with this realization my mom’s genius little plot comes to perfect fruition. I have once again watched my bright-faced children smile and sing praise to a Creator, and this time I have even heard and understood a Sunday morning lesson about giving.

Be it the quiet recollection of this lesson taught from pulpit by aspiring man, be it the original message of give-to-grow taught by Nature, or be it perhaps more simply the feel of fresh November air on my skin, one way or another this gentle task of raking leaves in my front yard has given me replenishment. I am healthier in mind and body as I head back inside to face the chaos. That’s a hell of a contest of emotional ultimate fighter going on in there, and I will need all of my faculties merely to avoid getting squashed in the melee. The raking has done me some good. I’m always slightly saddened when people tell me they want to take their trees down because of the “mess.”  The way I see it this mess is also a gift. This mess calls a modern human like me outside to live, to work, to learn, and in cases where conditions inside are approaching Category 5, to escape.

Bless those Leaves!   


About Scott Turner

Scott Turner enjoys the simple life he lives with his wife, Amy, and two young daughters in a lush, urban forest near the banks of the James River in Richmond, Va. After travelling the world for five years as an enlisted member of the United States Navy, Scott earned a Master's Degree in Physics from VCU before turning to a career as a certified arborist. He has been the owner of Truetimber Tree Service since 1998 and added an outdoor outfitting business called Riverside Outfitters in 2005 to share his love of trees. The company emphasizes recreational tree climbing, river play, and a return to good, old-fashioned fun.


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