John Carlson: It’s a Full Harvest …of Leaves

When leaves fall thickly, it’s time to fire up the tractor. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonWhen leaves fall thickly, it’s time to fire up the tractor. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

It’s a full harvest … of leaves

A bumper crop of leaves has fallen on our lawn.

There was a time I used to sweat out autumn, not wanting to leave the leaves lying out there for my neighbors to see, but also not wanting to bag them for the landfill and lose their natural mulching potential.

OK, OK. That’s a lie. I didn’t really give a crap about their natural mulching potential. The reason I didn’t want to bag them for the landfill is because – as a chubby, decrepit person – that seemed like way too much work.

But then, one day, I was given a lawn tractor.

It was my late Uncle Herby who left me that beautiful baby, a shiny green John Deere, and it came in very handy when we lived in a bigger house with a bigger lawn. Later we downsized to a much smaller place with a much smaller lawn. But having long before lost any interest in traipsing behind a push mower, I took the tractor with me.

Anyway, I have observed motorists snickering as they drive past, seeing me mowing a front yard that measures about 30 x 20 feet with a lawn tractor. But I just grin and offer a special single-digit rejoinder, at least in my mind, using my remaining digits to tightly grip the steering wheel to avoid falling off and mulching myself to death.

When your lawn is small as mine, this is a dizzying possibility.

Over such a small area, it gets to be like mowing the floor inside a revolving door. You turn the wheel harder and harder as your path tightens. Nearing the finish, you’re turning so tightly, you can get woozy.

Still, wooziness beats bagging, especially this time of year, when leaves require hours of effort to make them disappear.

In truth, this work is a special joy for anyone who has enviously watched harvesting while passing along a country road. There’s something special about seeing a farmer guiding a hulking combine up and down the rows of corn or beans that represent his livelihood, trailing dust and chaff on a perfect fall day.

As for my own harvesting, once again the corn and beans, planted only in my imagination, have failed me. Fortunately, I have leaves aplenty to harvest. That’s what I tell myself in my annual fall farmer’s fantasy.

This effort follows a familiar pattern.

First, I slap on a seed company ball cap. Then, grabbing my tractor’s steering wheel, I confidently swing myself onto the yellow padded seat, taking care to clear the blade-height lever situated on the left and the gear-selection lever situated on the right. Misjudge this and you’ll land on a lever in a very sensitive area, and I don’t mean near the hopper.

Hit one hard enough and, when Christmas carol season rolls around, you’re liable to be hitting the high notes on “Jingle Bells.”

Once safely seated, I expectorate the juice produced by my wad of bubble gum while setting the choke, then drawl, “Let’s fire up this bad boy.”

I call it a “bad boy,” even though my tractor stands about three-feet tall.

In doing all this, I think of my nephew Ben, a young man who is a major-league farmer in Illinois. He has the acreage and the equipment to match, what with the air-conditioned cabs, the sound systems, GPS and all that. For all I know, he’s got a frozen-margarita dispenser inside his combine.

Obviously, his equipment is more sophisticated than mine, but I do have the air conditioner, provided by the cool autumn temperatures, and a cup holder sunk into my right rear fender that’ll hold a beer can.

Oh, and lights.

I hate to use a word like charming when writing about that bad-boy tractor of mine, but that is definitely the most charming thing about it. Headlights. Much as I love watching farmers bring in their crops by day, I love it even more at night, seeing them slowly navigating their fields in the dark, their combines’ headlights augmented by the ghostly light of a glorious autumn moon.

For a while, in my own little way and my own little world on my own little tractor, I can emulate all that while mulching leaves, by daylight and even under God’s stars.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.