Rarely do Valley dwellers pass an autumn day without commenting on the foliage. “Gorgeous.”
Who can disagree? Crisp air tinged with the scent of smoke, mountains blushing behind the shining Hudson River, warm apple cider donuts dunked in a cup of steaming coffee—autumns here are unmatched.
Yet for all the splendor of nature’s canvas, I can’t suppress the dread that bubbles inside me around this time each year. The trees’ fading colors signify one thing: leaf removal season.
In fifth grade, my friend Sean and I started a leaf removal business. We had reached the age when spending money had to be earned. Rubbing our palms together like cartoon train burglars, we decided that raking lawns was the ideal way to make our fortune. We deposited a flyer in every mailbox in our respective neighborhoods, and voila! S & S Leaf Removal Service was born.
Within two weeks, we had three gigs booked. On the first day, we hopped out of my mom’s van lugging rakes and leaf blowers and disposal bags, elated that our scheme had worked. This is so easy! I thought, raking zealously. I tried to estimate how much money I would earn per stroke. That bunch of leaves was probably 25 cents! That one 50! A dollar!
But when I stepped back to survey my work, I discovered I had cleared only a few feet of leaves. Compared with the rest of the lawn, my patch of grass resembled a Frisbee floating in the Pacific. Across the yard, Sean had opened a slightly smaller circle of grass.
By the time we moved to the next lawn, I’d grown envious of Sean’s backpack leaf blower. It was powerful and ergonomic. My leaf blower was handheld, awkward, and sputtered like a respirator. I’d point the nozzle at the carpet of leaves, and a few would vault in the air like papery, Mexican jumping beans. They’d land inches from where they originally lay, and I’d sigh as I picked up my rake again.
Every few days, my mom hung up the phone and sang, “Guess who’s got another cust-o-mer?”
As she did, the light left my eyes. Outside the wind blew, and naked trees shook with laughter.
My neighbor had the mother of all lawns. Lined by woods, her yard stretched back for what seemed like miles. We hadn’t been working 15 minutes when I heard Sean’s voice behind me.
I turned around and a gust of cold air sent my hat sailing off. Sean snickered and raced away.
“Oh, you are so dead!” I grabbed my leaf blower and sprinted after him. He whipped around and raised his barrel as if to say, en garde! I planted my feet, and met his canon with my pathetic, wheezing leaf blower.
We let fly. My cheeks flapped and my eyes teared, but our cackling was drowned out completely as we stood like two statues, trying to de-cap each other.
It took us a week to clear my neighbor’s yard.
This year, my other neighbor bought a vacuum attachment for his ride-on mower. He steers lazily as it hums along, lapping up leaves like a Hungry, Hungry Hippo.
Leaning on my rake, I can’t help but admire his miracle machine. “Gorgeous.”
Steve Fowler is a lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley. He currently works in the Writing Center at Mount Saint Mary College.