The wide cadmium-yellow maples are the last to fall and form the thickest carpet, and because the wind has come hard out of the north all night and frozen the ground, they slide easily into big piles that scoop into the large flexible barrel that I heft and balance on my left hip. Swinging my right leg out, I cross to the verge of the field where a slim wedge has served as dumping ground for all 16 years of raking. Each season the wedge fills to a depth of two or three feet which I even out from point to end so the clumps smooth into an orderly domain. Engaged in the physical world, I can feel my cold hands, the wind and sun on my face, muscles beginning to slide and mesh, and as if my eyes had withdrawn from a mind, I only gaze at the birds looping from the tall trees to the feeders. What matters is not floating but being fastened to a body at work in each moment. Instead of gathering leaves, I could be kneading bread dough, sanding by hand a walnut table top, slipping pieces of an engine back into place, rowing out upon still water. The goal is focus, not drift.
Standing inside an 18th century barn recently, a friend pointed to a support beam carved from one tree. It ran the length of the back of the barn, at least 80 feet. My friend, an accomplished carpenter, shook his head in admiration at the skill of those long dead men, and when he spoke, I imagined their pleasure in the sweat and pull of the horses and ropes, the beam rising, guided slowly, finding its place atop the foundation pillars, the pegs driven home, and then the profound gratitude that must have settled upon them after finding another way to briefly shape a day. The goal is not transcendence but a mindful steadiness to resist gravity so that we might deepen our hold on daily life.