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Ugh, Dead Leaves!

Snow last fall prevented raking, and it stayed deep all winter. Now it's gone, I look with dismay at dead leaves everywhere.

They must come off the iris bed: moist conditions encourage diseases in iris. The lawn, too: leaves will smother grass.

But the crocuses are bursting up through all the layers of leaves, like some enthusiastic demonstration of flower power. The early daffodils, too. I'll bet all the bulbs do fine emerging from leaf cover. The wildflower bed has coped fine with them for years. Where else can I leave them?

The main problem is, I don't like the way dead leaves look. Why? I ask myself. In the forest, I like them; they make me feel awe at the richness they return to the soil. I just expect something different in my garden. I want it neat, and they look messy to me. I want to see thriving, green leaves, and they look dead.

Ward started raking the lawn. At the side of the house, he included the lily of the valley bed. Those tough plants can get up through leaves fine. But we both enjoyed the clean look of the bare dirt, where now we could see tiny white pips emerging. Then, as I saw his rake pass over the soil one more time, I noticed it was now taking away tiny black, decomposed shreds of leaves: not the big brown ones that had hid the emerging shoots, but good, rich compost.

Suddenly I realized that ever since I've been removing leaves from that bed in spring: weed grass has been invading, and the lilies of the valley declining. I've considered fertilizing them, but that would fertilize the weed grass -- and I haven't been able to keep that down very well with all my pulling and digging. If I'd just let the leaves stay every year, they'd improve the soil again and kill the grass, too.

My craving for neatness had blinded me to the value of the ugly -- which in this case wouldn't even last long: the lilies-of-the-valley spread out over the leaves in a few weeks!

As Dylan Thomas put it, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower... blasts the roots of trees." When I give thanks for the creative force that gives me the flowers I love so, can I accept decay and death as an intrinsic part of it?

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 2 May 2003

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The whole text of The Green Fuse, by Dylan Thomas.

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