Portland’s Rosy Cheek

November 9, 2016

Autumn begins in early October in the Pacific NW. For some reason Portland and its surroundings have a history of horrific October windstorms and this year was no exception: a tornado blew through Manzanita a few weeks ago. It spent just a minute on the ground, but it created a path of destruction that stretched from the beach to the highway. Fortunately, our house, which was just a few hundred feet from the worst damage, escaped without a scratch.

But autumn’s wind and rain means more than storm damage. It also means leaves, leaves, and more leaves. I’ve spent the past 6 weeks raking at all hours of the day, piling them up before I go to work in the morning, and then returning to the street for another round of raking in the dark after dinner.

There is beauty in this task: raking gives me a “virtuous excuse” to go outside and admire nature’s bounty. I think of the Leaf Man in Harry Nilsson’s The Point and smile at the riches I’m piling up. I think of the zen koan in which a student sweeps up every leaf to create the ideal garden for his master’s guests only to watch the enlightened master reach up, shake a few leaves onto the just-swept garden, and say, “Perfect!” And I leave a few leaves behind even as I keep sweeping.

Autumn is also the best time for walking. My wife and I went to the Japanese Garden last Sunday to admire the Japanese maples, but we were too late. Almost all of them were naked. And yet, as we slowly made our way back to the car we discovered plenty of red-cheeked maples to admire in the hillside neighborhood. Another lesson about slowing down and letting life happen. A line from Thoreau on this subject:

“I am more interested in the rosy cheek than I am to know what particular diet the maiden fed on.”

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