Raking eucalyptus leaves isn’t the same as raking oak leaves. October is different here. Yet the task commands our back yard and its brittle cold morning. Wood smoke and the distant buzz of chainsaws gathered on the air as we lifted armfuls of oak leaves into black plastic bags. My father in his red and black lumber jacket, me in my purple hat and double sweaters, my rake twice my height. And yet the leaves still came down, small brown-red, fluctuating to the ground: a storm of hermit thrushes in each gust of wind that landed, fluttered, and died.
Leaves don’t need to be swept away; they eventually stay wherever they drop and winter is the only thing that will smother their crackling wings. Once, I asked my mother why they called my father “Moon”. She said, It was his round, pale face – the one you inherited. Going back and forth in light and leaves, gathering piles that should remain where they are, I keep moving because moving keeps things whole as Mark Strand once said. Yet I’m vaguely aware something is unfinished. The ability to properly send my father off, to wave that open-car wave as they unplugged the machines. My mother said, He was always a snorer. Like you. The wind rattles the Eucalyptus tree. The birds here are different – smaller, rounder. My father and I spoke mostly about weather. Cold on the East Coast, hot in the West. The wind was always whining down the chimney. He said, Your mother and I fight over the thermostat out here. She’s always hot, I’m always cold. I said, The rain here is going to kill me, Dad. I rake and rake until there is nothing but rocks. The leaves take flight with each turn of the wind. I watch them angle away against the pink sky like chimney swifts with bent wings – a gray burst rising and vanishing on the other side of the house.