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April 23, 2009

This Wonderful Life

Guess Where. Chicken Hair.

Because I neglected to rake the leaves from our gardens last autumn, raking became my first springtime chore.

On the very first warm, dry Saturday of the season, I started my day with a cup of strong coffee seasoned with vanilla soy milk, then headed outdoors to tackle the leaves.

I gathered my tools, including three different types of rakes and my beloved leaf blower, which I hold to be one of humankind’s great inventions.

Many times, I have wished there was a similar device for clearing cluttered indoor spaces.

As wonderful as it is, my leaf blower was of little use to me this time. I fired it up and aimed it at the brown leaves that spent the winter congealing underneath snow in the garden bed next to the front door. Instead of scattering the leaves, the blower launched vast flotillas of maple leaves that hovered momentarily before falling, or flapped a few feet then flopped to the ground.

Clearly, automation was not going to be an option, so I gloved up and grabbed a rake.

I started on the little ridge that runs the length of our yard just a few feet behind the house. Using a rake with a broad, plastic teeth, I gently combed the leaves down the slope, careful not to butcher the happy daffodils and little blades of gladiola leaves.

It is delicate work, raking autumn leaves in spring. It requires attention and care to remove what is dead without destroying what is trying to grow.

There’s some kind of metaphor in that, but I was too busy to explore it. As I pulled away the drab leaves, I exposed green, leathery myrtle leaves and the occasional electric yellow sprouts of plants that lacked the advantage of sunlight.

While I was busy with the garden beds, my amazing husband and a friend were sinking posts for a fence that will contain a pig this summer. Bee and Poesy joined me, each wielding a tiny rake and eager to help. By ``eager’’ I mean, of course, that they were both in love with the idea of gardening, but utterly bored by the dull work of cleaning out two seasons’ worth of detritus to reveal the spring seedlings. I can’t blame them, frankly.

Bee, being older, was a trooper, and pitched in as much as she could. She performed some precision raking, skirting flowers and adding to the impressive leaf piles we were collecting. Poesy was more distracted, as any 3-year-old might have been. After heading up the hill to pick some daffodils, she stopped briefly to show off her floral treasures, then fluttered off to share her treasures with her dad or brother or one of her many imaginary friends, whose names all rhyme with ``Tohnna.’’ (``Do you know my friend Tohnna? What about Mohnna? Or Fohnna?’’)

As she skipped off, I could hear her telling her favorite joke to no one in particular: ``Guess what. Chicken but. Guess why. Chicken thigh. Guess who. Chicken poo.’’

Bee and I made considerable headway on the little hillside, which looked greener with every sweep of our rakes. Most of the leaves came easily, but on some places, they held tight. The strands of lily leaves fell like dead witch’s hair along the soil, but would not succumb to our rakes. For those, we had to go in with shears and clippers, cutting away like horticultural hair-stylists.

I looked up and asked Bee, “Where’s Poesy?“ ``Up there with Dad,’’ she said.

``Are you sure? She was just down there by the car,’’ I said.

I climbed the little ridge so I could see the guys working on the soon-to-be pig home.

Poesy wasn’t with them. I looked back down to the driveway, where she had been playing next to the car with her bunch of daffodils. No Poesy, but her flowers were sitting on the hood of my black car.

A couple of things happen when you are unable to locate one of your children. On one side, your rational brain comes up with all the reasonable, comforting explanations.

She’s in the bathroom. She went inside and fell asleep on the sofa. She’s playing a game of hide-and-go-seek, but didn’t botherá to tell anyone to count.

The other, more terrifying side of your brain conjures images and ideas so horrific I cannot even repeat them here, except to say that, when I was unable to locate my youngest child for 2.25 minutes on a Saturday morning, the images that invaded my imagination might just require years of therapy to manage.

I sent Bee inside the house to look for her sister in the bathroom, on the sofa, hiding in the coat closet. Meanwhile, I looked in the garage, then swept around the side of the house, scanning the stand of trees that separate out lawn from the road below. No Poesy.

I ran farther around the house, looked in the girls’ playhouse, the swing set, the chicken coop. No Poesy. I raced into the back door of the house just as Bee was coming toward it, shaking her head. She had looked all over the house, but there was no sign of Poesy. We both ran to the front door. At this point, the terrifying side of my brain had wrestled the rational side into submission and had bound and gagged the rational side and stuffed it in a closet.

My half-formed plan was to run up and down the highway shouting my daughter’s name and generally setting a new standard for ``stark raving.’’

And I wold have done it, if not for the fact that, just as we stepped out the front door, we saw Poesy and her dad coming up the walkway.

``Can you tell Mom where you were playing?’’

``In Mama’s car!’’ she chirped with a wide grin. Some things change slowly. Winter in Upstate New York takes its sweet time turning into spring. Some things change quickly. You win the lottery. You lose your job. You fall in love. You lose someone whose heartbeat is like the clockworks for your own.

That is the terrible joy of being alive. We all get at least a few turns at being an electric yellow sprout, exposed to sunlight for the first time.

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger has a leaf blower and she’s not afraid to use it.