I looked up across the wide span of grass. An army of red and orange had invaded my lawn last night, and Dad had sent me out to curb the incursion. I was hardly an enthusiastic enforcer. “What’s the point?” I had asked when he came and got me up early Saturday morning. “More will fall tomorrow.”
Dad cocked an eyebrow, all the reason he needed to give. I was out raking within the hour, saving my mutters for a deaf audience. It wasn’t the first time I had raked the leaves, and it wouldn’t be the last. I cut through the grass in vicious strokes of my rake as I raged at the unfairness, sending a flurry of sound and color into the air. It was more than just raking—it was raking to my dad’s standards.
“Plow the ground all the way to the fence.”
Dad had grown up on a farm, and he had a number of sayings in his arsenal of encouragement. That was the one I hated most. It was the difference between a yard virtually leaf free and one wholly rid of all blemish. In the windy Pennsylvania autumn, new attackers parachuted into our home base by the minute. I couldn’t understand then why I should focus so hard on getting all the leaves when fifteen minutes later my hard work would be erased.
Fast forward to my first semesters in W Hall at Deseret Towers. Room 606. I think my approach to college and life at that time is best illustrated by other piles—not of leaves but of laundry. I always separated my clothes, but not into whites and colors. My organizational system broke down into clean and dirty, two opposites in constant battle for balance. The dirty pile would grow in mass even as the clean clothes dwindled on the floor. When the time came, I would haul the dirty pile down to the laundry room and shove it in a machine en masse. An hour or so later, the clean pile would dominate the floor again, albeit a little less bright and vibrant with each mixed washing. “Why fold it?” I said to myself. “It’s only going to get wrinkled later.” My roommate never said anything; my girlfriend offered to do my laundry for me, repulsed by the perpetual mess on the floor by my bed.
Clearly the lesson my father had tried to teach me hadn’t taken.
Now that I’m an English 115 instructor, I don’t have the luxury of choosing which piles to clean up and which to let be. My desk is covered with personal essays and IFAT quizzes. The cardboard box that serves as my nightstand hasn’t seen sunlight in months; Fitzgerald and Hemingway keep blocking it out. My computer is littered with virtual piles of papers in process and unfinished stories.
My father wasn’t sending me out to rake. He was trying to get a lazy son to recognize one of the facts of life. It never stops raining leaves, no matter what the yard. A clean house will be dirty. A pressed shirt will get wrinkled. Even the laws of thermodynamics state that nothing becomes more ordered naturally—chaos always increases. It’s a shame that by the time we realize that fact, we’re too old to only have to deal with leaves.
My mom runs a successful business. She weeds on the side. When I was growing up, she liked to fill up my afternoons—the ones when I wasn’t raking—with helping her keep the flowerbeds free of undergrowth. I didn’t get it. She had enough money to hire a gardener; surely it wasn’t worth her time to deal with such mundane problems as weeds. Now when I take time out from writing a term paper to go and wash the dishes, I understand. Simple problems are so much easier to deal with.
Each day I tackle the pile in front of me, resigned to the fact that the others are growing. It’s a nice change of pace when I can finish all the vacuuming in one afternoon. Too bad I don’t have a yard to worry about. My dad would be proud.