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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The rake's progress

By Dick Hirsch

This is the time of year when at the first opportunity---or even the first semi-opportunity---many people will grab a rake, rush outside and begin raking with total dedication.

Have you ever noticed that?

Many of those people are seldom observed handling such mundane pursuits. They favor less visible activities, mostly sedentary, like spending an hour or so at the computer, Internet surfing or playing video games, or else indulging in more traditional activities like reading a book, watching TV or dealing with a crossword puzzle.

But spring raking is not only a property maintenance and horticultural activity, it is therapeutic and makes a resounding statement about the personality of the rakers.

It seems appropriate to say a few words about the rake itself. It is among the most rudimentary of implements, and it requires no special training or dexterity to operate. It is light in weight, highly maneuverable, and involves no heavy lifting. Those qualities contribute to its general popularity.

Spring rakers are far different from those who rake in the fall. You must have noticed that there are far fewer rakers at work in the fall than in the spring. That is the case even though there are billions more leaves, twigs and other assorted detritus to rake and gather in the fall than in the spring. That being the case, fall raking is regarded as a necessary duty, a boring chore, while spring raking is clearly considered a much happier and upbeat task, an opportunity not to be missed.

Many otherwise community-minded people ignore raking in the fall, apparently citing the doctrine enunciated years ago by Erastus Corning, the longtime Democratic mayor of Albany. In a statement about leaves, made years ago and since repeated often by reporters and columnists, Mayor Corning, discussing the management of fallen leaves, reportedly asserted: “God put them there and God will take them away.” Thus, he relied on the wind to blow the leaves over to Schenectady or Troy, rather than have his community waste energy and money collecting them. He must have saved the city considerable overtime payments during his years in office.

I heard about that policy years ago and immediately perceived the wisdom of that approach. Since that time I have adopted that method in my own affairs. (If I am seen raking in the fall, I do so only in self defense, if you know what I mean.)

With that as background, let me return to the question of spring raking, a topic that is pregnant with profound psychological implications. Why, oh why, do the same able people who avoid raking leaves in the fall, hasten into action in the spring?

(There may be a regional aspect to this discussion that needs to be mentioned. My opinion is base upon experience and observation in the northeast, but may apply elsewhere as well. In other climates the seasonal behavior of both the foliage and the rakers may be different.)

In my view, raking is a cyclical issue. As surely as winter comes, it always ends and recedes into memory for another year. In the northeast, winter usually fades reluctantly, and residents, even those who claim to cherish winter as much as each of the seasons, are glad when the first signs of spring become apparent. The buds begin to burst. The birds begin to build their nests. There are so many signals that cannot be ignored.

It is the time of rejuvenation.

Rejuvenation. That is the key, the critical difference between the spring rakers and the fall rakers. The spring rakers are celebrating rebirth. They have prevailed, enduring and outlasting another winter, and now they need to demonstrate to themselves and to others that they are participants in the annual reawakening. Rather than dancing around the May Pole, they rush out and rake. It is an exciting and meaningful time. There is a spring in their step as well as on the calendar, and the rakers proceed with obvious enthusiasm and joy.

It’s a far different scene in the fall. Raking then is widely disregarded; rather than being uplifting, it is drudgery, an assignment to be delayed, postponed or ignored. Those who do fall raking derive little lasting satisfaction. It’s a doleful duty; they are merely performing the last rites for a summer that has passed and considering the looming prospect of another winter. Perhaps they’re already anticipating the coming spring and some raking they will then enjoy. I hope so.


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