Raking Leaves

“Who do you think you are? Andy Goldsworthy?” isn’t something you hear every day. So when my neighbor asked me that last fall,  I took it as a compliment.

If you told me just two years ago that the most rewarding part of my day, and my creative life, would soon be raking leaves, I would have wondered if I was on my way to drug addiction or maybe a head injury. But here I am most mornings, cerebrum intact, stone cold sober as a matter of fact, tweaking the piles of leaves in my back yard, nudging them into semi-concentric waves.

You have to do something with these leaves, and it seems like a lost opportunity to blow them into a pile in the woods once a week. And once you start – once you stop once or twice to appreciate it as a vision, it’s harder to stop than to keep at it.

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My first intersecting line, with wind blowing toward the lower left.

You can create a soft line at the edge of a leaf-covered patch of grass by raking away from it – and a harder one at the edge of a pile by raking toward it, especially when the leaves are damp.

It was the 2017 documentary about Goldsworthy called Leaning Into the Wind that made me take leaves seriously as an artistic medium.  That film gives one a pleasantly weird feeling, partly because Goldsworthy himself is such a slow-talking hobbit of a man, and partly because it forces you to keep revisiting a question: “Is he dressing the set for a deceptively elaborate photo, or is this photo or video I’m looking at the documentation of an artistic practice itself?”

In my case it’s all about the practice. At least in October. It’s a little like cutting hair that grows back again overnight – and like the feeling you get when you leave a barber and tussle your own hair so it’s imperfect just the way you like it. It’s also about looking at the lines as if they’re in motion and imagining where they’re going – and then rake them there. In that way, it’s more like animation.

 

Is it art? Sure. Can you go public with it, give people the chance to appreciate it on a bigger scale? I suppose you’d have to find a bigger venue than my yard, and more people and more rakes.

One day the Fedex guy drove up and caught me in the act. “I can’t remember the last time I saw one of those,” he said, meaning a rake. A little overstating it, in my opinion: They weren’t steel sheep shears, after all; you can still buy a rake at the hardware store.

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With lines from morning shadows.

Not a comment at all about the geometry in the deciduous piles around me, but I’m still good for a minute-long chat with anyone, and he kept talking, chipper as ever while dealing with a giant box of cat food that blocked his vision. Seeing a man struggle with a box with the word “Chewy” printed across it looked to me like an artistic expression.

So far, I figured, I’ve gotten few to tune in. But once you start, everything starts looking like art.