The bounty of Autumn

The leaves have dropped from our largest heartnut tree. Behind the cob greenhouse, overlooking the top duck pond, the heartnut stands prominent in any easterly view from D Acres’ kitchen. Just the other morning, once the sun crested the trees and the shadows diminished, it was like a seeing an old friend in new clothing: it warranted a second take. 

See, the leaves fall seemingly at once, like a bed losing its blanket or a dog shaking snow from its back. With the heartnut, there is no slow denouement of a season, no gradual turn from summer’s vitality to autumn’s beauty to November’s starkness. Rather, it is a clear and concise statement, an act of assurance: Now is the moment, today is the change. 

And so it was this year. Overnight, in fact, it happened. Just a few days prior, the butternuts performed the same act of decisiveness. 

Now the heartnut and butternut leaves join the kaleidoscope of bold and colorful maple, birch, beech, ash and the occasional oak leaves covering the ground. A natural mulch, rich and multihued, the leaves will serve to protect the soil. Slowly decomposing back to soil and enriching the woods floor or garden edges where they fall, they are exemplars that lead us in our work to build soil fertility.

While leaves across the property are left intact, in situ, for this very reason, leaves along our roadside are a different matter. Fated to clog ditches and drainages, linger in culverts, and be tossed by ambitious snowplows, we sequester these leaves for higher purposes. 

We start by hitching up the trailer and tossing in rakes and all available hands. Leaf raking is an all-day affair here, sometimes multiple days. Up and down the roadside we march, raking piles large enough to fulfill everyone’s inner child. But it’s not time for jumping just yet. One overflowing armful at a time, we pile the leaves into the trailer. Someone earns the enviable job of stomping down the growing heap, while those remaining squat, lunge, gather and heave the piles into the trailer. A tremendous quantity can be packed within the slightly askew wooden sides. 

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