Thoughts While Raking Leaves

by Paul (PJ) Larson

On the day this is being written I am celebrating (perhaps “observing” is a more appropriate word) my seventy-third birthday. A day for reflection. And yes, a day for thankfulness. Come to think of it, “celebrating” is the right word after all, considering the alternatives.

This morning I have been raking maple and sycamore leaves in front of our house. I am not unaware of the ironic symbolism: an old man raking leaves. Plants and man completing their ordained cycle. What an image for a poet!

And apropo of trees, I remember with sad displeasure a former neighbor who almost danced in the street the day a city crew put chainsaw and axe to the magnificent oak in front of his house. “The leaves are so messy in the fall.” How can anyone dislike trees?

With what unseemly haste we rake up our leaves, each leaf a complex miracle of nature and in its way a metaphor for our lives. We hurry to stuff them into plastic bags and send them away in the garbage. Why not enjoy them for a few days? Shuffle our feet through them and enjoy the rustle, as we did in the country. Let them blow down the street. They’ll blow back.

People who grow up in ‘the country never feel completely at home in the city. Even though we spend most of our lives here, some secret part of our spirit forever yearns for the wide fields and the wide sky of rural childhood.

Why don’t we look up at the sky more often? Urban man grumps along looking down at the sidewalk, down at the street. And so the great cumulous sculptures of the sky float silently by, unseen and unappreciated. Our spirits are the poorer.

Seventy-three years. During these years I have destroyed massive amounts of Earth’s nonrenewable resources. My cars have used thousands of gallons of petroleum. How many tons of coal have been burned to generate electricity for my TV, my garage door opener, my hi-fi? Or how many acres of spruce forest cut for the truckloads of paper tossed into my wastebaskets?

Our precious topsoil, source of our foodstuff, is called “dirt.” We cover the rich land with concrete for highways and parking lots, blacktop for roads. We let it erode. We use it as a blotter for pesticides, nuclear wastes, and all the lethal by-products of our affluent consumer way of life. Bass and sunfish now grow tumors swimming in the turbid water of our once clear lakes and brooks. Polluted air, acid rain, the mournful list goes on and on ....

In short, we need an ethic of nature, all of us. Not pantheism, not nature worship, but a theology of nature. After all, the Psalmist reminds us that “the earth is His footstool.” His, not ours. And yet we have wiped our feet on-His-footstool. Before it-is-too late, can the church teach us better manners?

— November 10,1986

See all articles by Paul (PJ) Larson