Earlier this month, when the winners of a $1.58 billion lottery jackpot were announced, I overheard an office mate speculating on what he would do if such a windfall came his way.
His first purchase with his newfound wealth, he confided, would be a huge machine to vacuum away every leaf from his lawn.
It wasn’t, I’ll admit, what I’d consider my first what-the-heck splurge if I struck it rich. But the thought of a Mega Lawn Leafmaster 6000 — some Dr. Seuss contraption Hoovering up every last leaving of autumn — did seem, at the very least, a window into the fantasy lives of men of a certain age.
Some of us — or maybe most of us — aren’t daydreaming of swimsuit models, sugar white beaches or some alternate life in which we score a last-minute touchdown in the Super Bowl. We are, instead, fantasizing about deluxe yard equipment.
Maybe it hadn’t occurred to my co-worker that with a fortune in the bank, he could surely hire a lawn crew to worry about stray leaves so he wouldn’t have to. Or maybe he simply wanted the satisfaction of sucking up the leaves himself — a revenge fantasy formulated over countless autumns of raking, mulching and bagging his weekends away in the fruitless pursuit of a perfect lawn.
All of this came to mind last Saturday as I began excavating the yard from beneath what our sycamore had deposited all autumn and winter. During the cold months, sycamores drop hundreds of leaves the size of oven mitts. They cover the lawn in a uniform blanket of brown, then migrate to other yards nearby. If my neighbors have been following the news, it has no doubt occurred to them to build a 30-foot wall against the great leaf hordes, then make me pay for it.
Every spring, as if lifting the sheets from the furniture of a summer house, I begin to grind the leaves away, hoping to find new grass underneath. My old mower, reluctant to rise from its winter nap, coughs and sputters, then finally, clearing its rusty throat, roars to life and begins making its rounds.
We move gingerly, since it’s never quite clear what secrets hide beneath the minefields of leaves.
I’ve found forgotten hammers and screwdrivers from last year’s chores buried there, and softballs, and sprinklers — even an undiscovered Easter egg, still intact.
Sometimes, I unearth a crime scene — the tiny skeleton of a bird claimed by some unknown predator weeks ago, perhaps as we were trimming the Christmas tree inside. There are dead anthills, too — dry little mounds from a miniature civilization, perhaps as complex as ours, now as lifeless as the remnants of Pompeii.
The leaves don’t leave all at once. I’m in a war of attrition, with each week’s mowing slowly chewing last year’s foliage into food for next year’s leaves.
Maybe, by then, I will have won the lottery.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.