My neighbors think I'm lazy because I refuse to rake my leaves. I tell them this: It has nothing to do with laziness. It has to do with my spirituality.
I learned from a very wise and frugal man that by leaving your autumn leaves on the ground, you are expressing the greatest reverence to God. I won't try to control what God has wrought. I won't pretend that I can keep orderly and controlled the perennial fall of His leaves. Let them lie on the ground for a long winter's rest. Let my rakes rust. Thy will be done.
My Uncle Pete taught me this when I was a kid, in the late sixties. Uncle Pete lived across the street. And even more revolutionary than his theory of Divine predestination of leaves was his Libertarian view that forbade the trimming of hedges.
Uncle Pete lived next door to Harry O'Brian, a fireman who was antsy as a waterbug. When he wasn't bolting around town from fire to fire, he was down at the Irish club, leading jigs or giving jigging lessons. Kids left the club whipped. He was a jigging slave driver.
When he wasn't jigging or fighting fires, Harry O'Brian burnt his nervous energy with fastidious yard work. His hedges were carefully contoured, as shapely as a soda bottle. They were in better shape than most American draftees. That is what Uncle Pete compared Harry O'Brian's bushes to, soldiers.
"Look at them, crisp and straight, standing tall at attention. Now look at my bushes, nobody's fools." Uncle Pete's bushes jutted out raggedly, like big gangly green nuclear centipedes. When the wind blew and the branches bristled, Uncle Pete's hedges looked like some foliage cast of Hair performing "Aquarius."
"My bushes are expressive. They reach for the sun, they're relaxed, they're letting it all hang out."
Uncle Pete and Harry O'Brian each resembled his own shrubbery. Harry O'Brian was stiff as a shovel. He never grinned. He jigged, not for joy, but to keep busy. Jigging was no less work to him than firefighting or yard maintenance. He worked on his yard as if it kept us free from Communism. Stiffly, in his military haircut and tucked-in Dickey work shirt, he trimmed and pruned. He scissored his bushes with precision, like a surgeon removing a mole.
Uncle Pete was Papa Hemingway in his long white beard. Loose as a goose, he wore jeans with frayed bottoms, swinging and swaying with every step, every little breeze whispering Louise.
He was a tailgunner over China in World War II. He was a little bit of the 50s and a little of the 60s. He played scratchy Louis Jourdan records in the garage and wore Nehru shirts from Penney's. He let his bushes go so they could find themselves.
"It's respect for God," he said. "You're not trying to put His nature under your thumb, because if you do, it's a losing battle. Everything grows back-grass, beards, leaves-and we're fools to think we control nature." That's when Aunt Kathryn would pipe in. "He's been saying that since the day in 1953 when we bought this property. Before that we rented and he never had yard work to do. Back then, he talked about the Cleveland Indians and what he wanted on his hamburger. Now every time the leaves turn or the bushes grow, he's the Maharishi."
"Forgive her, Lord," Uncle Pete said with piety. So while the bushes expressed themselves and Aunt Kathryn raked the leaves, Uncle Pete and I spent the autumn drinking root beer in his garage, snapping our finger to Louis Jourdan, praying for her soul and the soul of Harry O'Brian.