The rap on the door was sharp, urgent, insistent, a foreboding of crisis…rappity - rappity-rappity rap ... Me rushing to the door, fumbling with the lock my adrenaline pumping, preparing for an emergency.
Small boy. Odd expression. He hands me a scrawled note on a much-folded paper.
"My name is Donnie. I will rake your leaves. $1 a yard. I am deaf. You can write to me. I can read. I rake good."
Across the back of our house is a number of middle aged white birch trees, extravagantly dressed in season with a million green and yellow leaves. In season the leavesdetach and fall to the fround. The leaves lie on the ground protecting the yard from the harshness of winter, I like it very much. My wife doesn't. Her gardening magazine doesn't. Leaves should be raked. There are rules. Leaves are not good for the grass. Leaves are untidy. Leaves get moldy and slimy. But I like leaves. There is a reason for leaves. There is no reason for mowed grass. My wife doesn't see it this way. There is an unspoken accusation in the air of laziness. We have been through this many times before. Nevertheless, this year we had struck a bargain in the name of the scientific method. Half the yard would be racked and the other half left in the hands of nature. Come summer, we shall see. (Her half is raked, mine is not.)
Like a pilot in the fog relying on limited instruments, the boy looks at me intently for information. He knows I have leaves. He has seen them. My yard is the only one in the neighborhood with leaves. He knows the price is right. Solemnly he holds out the paper and pencil for my reply. How can I explain to him about the scientific experiment going on in my yard?
In a way the trees are there because of the leaves. Millions of seeds have fallen to the ground to replenish the trees when they get old. The leaves follow to cover, protect, warm, and nourish the next generation of trees. Rocky ground, rot, mold, bacteria, birds, squirrels, bugs, and people all intervene. However, some how, some make it. In the silence of winter they prevail, plant themselves and survive to become the next generation of trees. We shouldn't mess with the process.
"My name is Donnie. I will rake you leaves. $1 a yard. I am deaf. You can write to me. I can read. I rake good." He holds out the pencil and paper with hope and goodwill.
There are times when the simplest of events call all of one's motives into question. What would I do if he weren't deaf? What will it do to him if I say no? If I say yes? We stand in each other's long silence. In the same motion he turns to go and I reach for the pencil and paper to write.
"Yes I would like to have my leaves raked." A grave nod from the attentive businessman - child. "Do you do it when they are wet?" "Yes" he writes. "Do you have your own rake?" "No." "This is a big yard, there are a lot of leaves." "Yes." "I think I should give you two dollars." A smile. "Three?" He writes. A grin. We have a contract. The rake is produced, and Donnie the deaf leaf raker goes to work in the fast falling twilight. In silence he rakes. In silence I watch. Are there any sounds at all in his mind? I wonder. Carefully he rakes the leaves into a large pile. I am thinking I will spread the leaves out over the yard again after he is gone. Carefully he rakes the leaves into a large pile. He is also stubborn about his values. Raking leaves means ALL the leaves. Signing, that he must go because it is dark, and he must go home to eat, he leaves the work unfinished. Having paid in advance, I wonder if he will return. At my age I have become cynical. Too cynical. Come morning he has returned to his raking, first checking the already raked section for any latecomers. He takes pride in his work and the yard is leaf free. I notice he is picking up several of the brightest yellow leaves and putting them into the pocket of his sweatshirt, along with a whole handful of seeds.
Rappity - rappity-rappity rap! He reports to the door, signing that the work is done. As he walks away up the street I see him tossing one seed into the air at a time. Fringe benefits. Tomorrow I will go out and push the pile of leaves over to the compost heap in the corner of our yard. I will do it in silence. The leaves and seeds will have to work it out on their own this time. I wouldn't feel right about undoing his work. My experiment with science will have to stand aside for something more human.
The leaves let go, the seeds let go, and I let go too.