When I bought the house there were a lot of things left behind. A desk, a garage full of random things, a shed with at least two mowers in it, and a small fenced in area full of leaves.
The leaf pile had a four-foot fence on two sides. It was about the size of a parking lot space. Tendrils of ivy consumed the walls of the rotted fence. Among the piles of decaying leaves, there was a bright orange traffic cone, a small rusty barrel, and the remnants of a wheelbarrow. Next to it was a mound of Blair Witch-esque branches and sticks.
The junk pile sat beneath two tall trees. One a tall evergreen holly tree, and the other a sweet gum tree. The latter meant the whole pile was covered with prickly balls, the former meant the pile was shaded all year. So, it was always wet and always covered with pokey things.
I was happy to let that pile sit there for two years. I was afraid of what I might find. A big mystery pile of dead leaves, junk, and who knows what else? No thanks. It was blocked by a rusty shed, also full of junk, so I didn’t even really look at it much. I just dubbed it Leaf Mountain and went about my business.
But like all things I try to avoid, Leaf Mountain came for me eventually. I had been working on cleaning out the garage, which is a perpetual task itself. Anyway, the junk pickup guys arrived to pick up yet another load of random items I couldn’t sell or giveaway. It was a nice day, and I asked them to look at Leaf Mountain. “How much do you think it would cost for you guys to clean this up and haul it away?” I asked.
Silence. Owning an old, quirky, house, I’ve grown accustomed to the wry looks of aversion of a workman who doesn’t want to deal with a complicated mess. After the initial look of dread, the nice man said the price would start at $1,000. That’s when I decided, I can bag a bunch of leaves. All I must do is clean up one bag of leaves at a time. Repeat that process until complete. Anything in this world that has been done, can be undone.
Luckily by that time Jaymes and I were living together. He’s very physically strong, which turns out to be something necessary for home improvement projects. A couple months prior, he had removed the rusty old shed, further exposing Leaf Mountain. We were left with a nice clean concrete slab, perfect for sitting in chairs, but with the view of a slimy leaf heap.
So, I assembled the team: Jaymes, the muscle, Julianne the brains, and Johnny Cash, the moral support. I collected the supplies: a box of clear leaf bags, paper leaf bags, rakes, utility gloves, insect repellent, a hat that made me feel a little protected from slugs and bugs, long pants, long sleeves, and tall socks.
I bought two tools that were especially helpful. First were these big leaf scoops. And second was a leaf chute. If you’ve ever used the compostable paper bags from home improvement stores you know they collapse on themselves like a dying star unless they’re about halfway filled. The leaf scoops are much easier to wrangle than using rakes or your hands. Plus, you can pretend you’re a monster or a James Bond villain named Leafy McScoop Hands.
Every day after work, I told myself, I’d work for one hour. If I got tired or slugged, I could stop. But most of the time once I got into it I kept working until it got dark. The tools helped make things go along a little faster. Yard work, while tiresome, is also very rewarding. It’s got a very clear beginning middle and end. It also makes me appreciate my sedentary desk job.
We filled bag after bag of leaves. We broke down all the sticks and branches to firepit-able lengths. Large tree trunk pieces revealed themselves, along with a medley of junk. I’m not sure if I was happy there were less leaves, or mad because there was more junk, but I know I was glad to see the pile shrinking.
Eventually, all the junk was sorted and hauled away. Jaymes ripped out the fence. The leaves were picked up by the county to make into mulch. We were left with a nice, clean patch of yard.
Now writing this blog, I went back to look at the photos of the process. It looks kind of nice. The sun shining through the trees, Jaymes and Cash are working very hard at their tasks. Leaf Mountain doesn’t look so big now, nor so scary.
I spent a lot of time avoiding Leaf Mountain. Years, in fact. And once it was done with, I didn’t think about it much. It was a pain to do, a ton of work, and at the end of it, the clean patch of land wasn’t very exciting. But now I see that just letting something sit there and avoiding it takes up not only physical space, but mental space. Rather than feeling dread looking at my yard, I just see trees, and feel a sense of peace.
Helpful leaf clean-up tools:
Leaf cleanup in your county: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/publicworks/recycling-trash/leaf-collection-dates