3. The Mighty Oaks

(Autumn 1998)

It being autumn and all here on Cape Cod, I am coming to a much greater appreciation of the mighty oak trees on my property. What marvels of nature they are, spreading their limbs over the top of the house and shading my office windows during the long sunlit days of summer. In fact most of the summer my office bathes in quiet semi-darkness broken only by the occasional shaft of light that filters through the green canopy. Why it is almost like living in some Thoreau-style utopia.

The long days of summer are behind us, the green canopy slipping into Mother Nature’s Maaco shop overnight, to reappear in the morning in a fine raiment of crimson and burnt orange. What a great time to slip out the backdoor with jaunty tweed cap perched backward on my balding pate and take a daily constitutional amongst such splendour. Doubly so because the tourists have long since ensconced their noisy brats in another semester of school and one needn’t take life and limb in hand when stepping off the sidewalk.

My neighbourhood is populated primarily by Seal Pointers and their older siblings, content to limit their explorations to the darker recesses of the refrigerator or under the bathroom sink in search of Depends. It is rare indeed to meet another living soul on my walks about the neighbourhood. Even the dogs are of the shaggy and toothless variety, long past darting out to nibble the legs of passing visitors.

The air is quite crisp, even though the thermometer still reads in the mid 60’s. I squash the tweed cap lower over my head and sproing a set of Walkman headphones over the top as I set out. I suppose it might look odd, this 40 something gentleman in his Hi-Techs and tweed cap listening to Nirvana as he walks, but then there are far stranger sights to be had on Cape Cod streets.

But I digress…

With the passing of summer into autumn comes another uniquely New England treat, known locally as a Nor’Easter. Whirling northward along the Gulf Stream these nasty little storms like to stop somewhere to the southeast of Nantucket and fire great gobs of rain and bits of whatever happens to be in their path onto Cape Cod. These storms wreak havoc with my cable service and on occasion my lights and telephone, but by far the most pronounced effect is upon the mighty oaks on my property.

In 24 hours the Nor’Easters will turn my beautiful russet canopy into an assortment of debris and brackage threatening to completely bury the bomb and most backyard accouterments under 4 feet tall. It is with no little trepidation that I arise after one of these storms and peer, not out the window at the damage, but through the keyhole in the divider between my and Ms. M.jr.’s desks. One look at her staring out the window at the leaves in the driveway gives rise to pleasant thoughts of running to the nearest French Foreign Legion recruiting station. You see, Ms. M.jr. has a ‘thing’ about leaves. Or to be more specific, Ms. M.jr. has a ‘thing’ about leaves in the driveway that I am not ferociously trying to eradicate.

No mention of the leaves will take place for several days after the storm as she quietly stews at the lazy laggard she has been saddled with for a Significant Other. For my part I will avoid mentioning the subject, looking up whenever crunching my way to the bomb or sitting on the back deck enjoying a few hours of warm autumn sunlight. This, of course, is quite infuriating to Ms. M. jr., and it will only be a matter of days until the “I hate goddam leaves” and “why the hell do we have some many goddam oak trees” comments start to appear. These are a signal that perhaps it is time for yours truly to put aside tweed cap, Walkman and hiking boots in favour of duck boots, Walkman and trusty rake.

Knowing full well what slender thread my life dangles by I will spend several hours imitating the Tazmanian Devil as I try to whip the yard into shape. I will start in the front yard as this is the view neighbours will see (can’t have them thinking we are slobs after all) and with any luck, in a few hours will have cleared at least a good 10 square feet of ground and deposited a dozen or so barrels of leaves on the midden I am building amongst the fir trees in the backyard (I rent the place… what do you expect?). All this time, Ms. M. will busy herself in the office, watching me work mostly and offering suggestions whenever I pass the open door in the farmers porch at the end of the house. This is a genetic thing I am sure, as other men will probably attest. After a few hours of this ‘manly work’ I will return to the sanctuary of the house, grimy and sweaty, breathing hard for good measure, help myself to a large cup of coffee and disappear into the darkest corner of my office to read emails. This is noted and I can expect to hear a low mutter emanating from the other side of the divider.

This year I decided to take a different tact toward the proliferation of dead, stinking leaves in my driveway. I like to think of it as ‘the Gandhi maneuver’ – passive resistance to the leaves, willing myself to believe that in fact the yard is filled with large spruces and pines and not those nefarious oaks. It worked well for the first week or so until one day whilst replying to an email from one of my regular correspondents I heard a rather familiar scraping noise coming from the farmer porch end of the house. I sat still for several minutes trying to figure out exactly what the noise was, then craned my neck around the end of the divider to see if Ms. M. had any ideas of her own. Alas she was not there, having slipped quietly out of the room while I was perusing the CBC News online.

Suddenly it dawned on me, with great horror I might add… the noise was the sound of a leaf rake being dragged across the flagstones in front of the farmers porch.

OHMYGAWD, Ms. M. was raking leaves!

At this point I had two options, to commit ritual hari-kiri and avoid certain death at her hands, or to slip out the back door, grab the other leaf rake and sneak around the opposite end of the house, furiously raking the soggy mass of leaves as I went. Since I am typing this missive it is quite obvious which solution I took. Besides I have this aversion to blood, especially my own.

Presently I had raked my way around the other end of the house and back to the driveway. I should probably add that the end of the house I raked around has no oak trees, but a lovely grove of spruce. I was able to acquire a reasonable pile of leaves as I went though, embellishing it more than slightly as I passed the midden. As I neared the far corner of the house I realized the scraping sound had ceased. One eyebrow up I stopped and listened harder. Nothing. How odd. Leaning my rake against the leaf barrel I crouched down and peered around the corner of the house, making sure to keep the rhododendron between myself and Ms. M. She was nowhere in sight. I crept a bit further around the corner, but still nothing. Hmmm…

At this point I began to have the strangest feeling of being watched. Turning about slowly I looked across the street, to where Peter and his wife who’s name I can never remember live. No car in the driveway and just a single leaf or two on their immaculately groomed lawn (I hate them by the way). Turning further I looked up and down the street. Nothing was stirring, although I could hear a couple of teenagers bouncing a basketball several houses away. Slowly I straightened up until my eye level just cleared the sill of the living room window. As chance would have it I happened to look through the window. Directly in front of me was a pair of blue jeans, mid thigh or so, being worn by Ms. M. to be exact.

I leapt back in surprise, knocking over the leaf barrel and almost doing myself irreparable damage on the end of the rake. Coming to rest several feet away, I lay in the middle of my fresh pile of soggy leaves staring helplessly up at my Significant Other, who glared back with her impossibly blue eyes. I grinned my best grin. She turned away and disappeared into the dark shadows of the living room.

Slowly I extricated myself from the leaf barrel and retrieved the end of the rake from the small of my back. Rising to my feet I sadly began to fill the leaf barrel…

Only another 27,000 barrels of leaves to go…