People complain about leaves. They’ll complain in an aggrieved but nevertheless indulgent tone about their own leaves but the more acidic comments refer to someone else’s leaves. Someone nearby, with the audacity to have a healthy deciduous tree sequestering carbon and mitigating the local heat effect that nevertheless goes and drops its leaves and not just on the their own property but on theirs. Like the trees are littering or something.

That’s the sort of derangement that comes with the notion of personal property rights.

We’ve had people take trees down for no greater offense than that: they have leaves. And botanical audacity. They’re freaking socialists is what they are. Or, like the neighbor across the street, they take down two large healthy conifers because they were near the house and might fall on it some day. Maybe in a couple hundred years. Dude. It’s about as likely as your roof caving in from a blue-ice shit-bomb from a passing airplane. The trees are a hundred feet tall. If your neighbor three doors down had one you’d be just as vulnerable. No matter: dude got himself a nice tidy treeless front yard and left one more modest tree, which promptly keeled over roots and all in the next windstorm, taking out his neighbor’s power in midwinter, because it had lost the anchor of the big trees’ roots.

I’m not a chore hound. Lots of things need to be done that aren’t fun to do. But I always liked raking. I liked the mild exercise, the fragrance, the soft whuffing of the bamboo rake, the emerging lawn, combed and coiffed.

I raked a lot when I was growing up. We had maples. The neighbor girl and I used to rake them into blueprints and then walk in and out of the rooms, playing house, and later rake them into big piles and jump in them. There’s nothing like jumping into a big pile of leaves! You kind of remember how cool it was when you’re about twenty, and you see a big pile of leaves and try it one more time, possibly under the influence of peers and alcohol, trying to regain your innocent youth, especially if you think it makes you a more attractive and fun-loving person. And you discover that Gravity has a much stronger opinion about your extra hundred pounds. It’s not fun at all. But if you can come to long enough to smell that pile of leaves, it drops a hook right into your childhood, and you can reel it in.

In our yard, we raked the leaves into Dad’s compost pile, which wasn’t even a concept next door; the neighbor girl raked them toward the outdoor fireplace and someone set them on fire. Now that was a terrific smell! My new little pink lungs loved it. Pollution wasn’t on anyone’s radar back then. Even indoors the atmosphere was one-third Viceroys.

It’s been years since Dave and I had a lawn we needed to groom. Now we don’t rake, but we do sweep the walkways with a broom, sending the leaves sideways into the garden beds. That’s about it. The leaves pile up in the garden and I know for a fact that my tree-felling neighbor, who has never met a fossil-fuel-powered tool that didn’t give him a chubby, passes judgment on our garden. It’s not tidy. It’s the opposite of how he thinks a yard should look. I feel the same way about his.

My garden is hopping all winter long with birds scuffling in the leaves for hors-d’oeuvres. Pulling the last seeds off the perennials. Poking treasures into the soil to find later. Even in the middle of a city you can create a place that attracts birds that ignore the yard next door. They’re that precise. I am their landlady. I try to be one of the nice ones. I try to see what they need. I firmly believe that if you give birds what they need you’ll improve the world for us all. I do.