Amazing how one week can make a change in the autumn leaves. A week ago we were admiring the fall colors in the leaves. Today we are walking on those same leaves that have fallen to the ground.

A few of the trees are late shedders of their leaves, such as the elm and the hackberry. I can look at one of these and see it today almost constantly floating a few leaves down of its immense foliage. It is also interesting to remember that these two kinds of trees were the last to burst into leafage at the beginning of the growing season. If it is the change in length of light each day that causes the changes in leaves, are these two trees governed by a different clock than the ash and oaks and maples?

What a wealth of compost a single great tree lends to the earth beneath it. If this compost were left to itself it would enrich the soil beneath the tree.

Of course we humans find this leaf-shedding a bit too messy for our sensibilities. Therefore in our yards, parks and playgrounds we carefully gather up these leaves and carry them away in order to leave (why does that word appear again in another context? I must explore its etymology a bit further) our acres of grass looking carpet-clean.

Thereupon we spray our lawns with chemicals to give them a look of verdure. Thus it is we who dress up the messiness of nature.

I recall that as a teenager (you must realize that is a long time ago), living at that time in the heavily-wooded Twin Cities, I took it upon myself to see if I might earn a bit of money from this clean-up habit of my fellow human beings. So, hoisting a rake upon shoulders I went from door to door asking for raking jobs without any idea what to charge for such work.

The first folks asked what I charged, and wrinkling my forehead I ventured a dollar an hour. (You have to realize that those were the days when, if you saw a dollar bill blowing down the street you would stop to pick it up - nowdays they talk of making the bill into a coin calling it pocket change.) The client said, “that sounds fine.”

The next place I charged $1.50. By the end of the day I was charging $2.50 an hour. I was learning what grownups were willing to pay to re-arrange nature.

Undisturbed, nature would lay a rich bed of leaves upon the ground. They would decompose and enrich the existing soil.

I still remember from grade-school days learning that the average depth of top-soil world wide is six inches. Six inches! And all the verdure that makes animal life possible upon this planet arises from those six inches.

Nuthatch flits about in the hackberry tree near me. He reminds me that I have been here since sunrise, and a warm sun is making a cold autumn morning into a very pleasant day, but it is time for me to be moving on. A yearling deer has just stopped to gaze at me, and now he too is moving on.  

James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.


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