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HERB BENHAM: This afternoon was unbe-leaf-able


Leaves are everywhere. All you need is a rake and a good attitude may follow.

The leaf blower blasting outside my window had me thinking: What's the opposite of a leaf blower? A rake, a broom and a man who is not afraid to use them.

This is not a shot at gardeners, certainly not the one I am lucky to employ. If we want to pay for the broom-and-rake treatment, most of us will have to pay more than the modest sums we are paying now.

Gardeners can't spend all day in your yard. They are trying to grind out a living and because they are willing to do so, we can leave town for a weekend in the summer and not come back to a lawn that looks like a corn maze.

However, we have a row of liquidambars in front and several mature sycamores on the side and during the fall, they drop leaves day and night, quiet and steady as snow in Vermont.


I could use some therapy. Most of us can, if we're being honest or we ask the people to whom we're married or are close to us.

"That guy should be on the couch once a week or in the white room in restraints."

In lieu of the $100-an-hour path, a few days ago I grabbed a green metal rake from the garage and a broom whose end looked like Pippi Longstocking's hair and began raking the thick gold, yellow, brown and red leaves that lay thick on the front lawn even though the leaves had been cleared two days earlier. If Jimi Hendrix had seen these leaves, he could have written another song that rivaled "Purple Haze."

I already felt better doing what Dad had us do on Saturdays while he was off playing tennis or something. We resented it then but what do kids know about anything, the least of which might be becoming better people through raking the front lawn?

Raking leaves is quiet, humbling and a chance to see the world pass by. Touching base with old neighbors and meeting new ones. Connecting — remember what that was like?

Where was everybody? I was raking leaves in an old-fashioned way and in order to satisfy the golden flow of this bucolic narrative that I had constructed, somebody had to pass by, preferably with a golden retriever, but even a gentle soul pulling a recalcitrant rescue would do.

How long do I have to experience the redemptive power of raking leaves before taking a break to trade homilies with another pilgrim?

Thirty minutes later, and by then it was almost dark, conditions just this side of requiring a miner's hat with a headlamp in order to distinguish faces or shapes, a woman walked by with two large dogs and stopped. I wasn't sure I knew her but she was friendly in a way that some young people are not who give you that "I hope I never look like you" look.

"How about I pay you to rake your leaves?" she said.

That's what I was looking for. Somebody who understood what this was all about and you know the "this" that I'm talking about.

"I used to rake leaves when I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania," she said. "The leaves were this big."

If "this big" had been a fish it could have swallowed the whale that swallowed Jonah. Pennsylvania had some big leaves.

She took her leave and vanished into the night as people often do after they have traded homilies with you. I returned to my raking and 30 minutes later, the leaves from the five massive trees were in the gutter.

A pile would have been better and kids to jump in the pile but I had eaten enough nostalgia pie for one day. The lawn was clean and green the next morning and by the following day, it was covered again. Life can be like that and "that" is one more chance to get right again.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.


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