Fall Cleanup – Raking it in on Shelter Island

Nobody likes yard work, but autumn is the one time of year when it can actually be fun. On a cool, crisp day you can rake piles of leaves that eventually must be bagged, but not before the leaves of summer yield up their last purpose on Earth—to become piles of fun for screaming kids.

It all starts with the adults. You go into the garage and choose your weapon. A bamboo rake is a classic choice and can double as a pretend guitar or witch’s broom. The metal rake with its rectangular base doesn’t double as anything and there is almost always three or four prongs that are bent up. Then there’s the last incarnation of rakes, the cheap plastic rake. The tines are too thick to stab stray leaves like the others can. However, despite being plastic, it does surprisingly well in rake-to-rake combat, which commonly occurs at some point during the day. Use of leaf-blowers is a breach of raking etiquette.

Once you’ve chosen your rake, then begins the fight over who rakes what area of the yard. It’s all about the trees, because that seems to be where the leaves congregate. On a windy day, the leaves are more spread out and the fighting less intense. It then becomes critical to call out dibs on what area of the yard you will rake. It may be necessary to add shouting to get your way and possibly some effective cursing. If you’ve raked leaves with these people before, you can claim that you had to rake the area around the big maple tree last year so it’s somebody else’s turn this year. If it’s a lie, make sure you say it with great conviction, and it helps if you can work up a tear or two.

Once the working has begun, the focus of the task changes to the piles of leaves themselves. Whose pile is the biggest, who has the best quality leaves, who has gathered sticks and stones to enhance their pile, and so on and so forth. Once this competition begins to take over the minds of people, rivalries will spring up as mature people become 12 years old. They will run through each other’s piles, cursing and screaming, creating wakes of flying leaves.

Re-raked piles are carefully guarded with threats of retaliation. Sometimes it is necessary to engage in rake jousting. Here is where the true value of the metal rake reveals itself. With one well-placed stroke, you can scratch your opponent’s face sufficiently enough to draw blood and send the coward scurrying into the house for peroxide and a Band-Aid. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of victory after a rake joust.

After all the leaves have been raked into piles, it’s time to bag them and argue about who did the most work. This important argument over who did the most work can be pre-empted only by children. They are allowed to run amok through the piles of leaves and ruin the whole day’s work because somebody, somewhere in time, decided that this chaotic behavior qualified as quaint quality family time.

Parents take the obligatory cutesy pictures, throw the children playfully into the piles and then run into the house. But despite their best efforts, the children usually find them. The only real benefit to letting children run through leaves is to identify early on which ones are asthmatics. After an exhausting day like this, all adults, especially parents, are authorized to start drinking the first eggnog of the season.

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