The Old Badger: Thoughts on raking

The Old Badger
Thoughts on raking

First Published October 16, 1985
As I was raking leaves the other day the sun warmed one side of me, but the shadows chilled the other. There was a gentle breeze which soon grew stronger and began to blow leaves away as fast as I could pile them up. I stopped and leaned on the rake and watched the leaves chase each other across the yard. And I inhaled a lot. What great air we have! And I fell to musing.

A milkweed puff blew by my face, swirled, rose and disappeared behind a nearby fir tree. And then I remembered being told that milkweed pods were gathered around Cooperstown during both World Wars. They were used for the stuffing in life jackets, I was told. Silly thing to be thinking about, but that’s what I thought about.

My eyes then noticed that the lower leaves of a larch tree had already turned yellow and I thought, again, “Larch, a deciduous conifer whose little leaves are often mistaken for needles. Larch, also tailed tamarack. Also, called hackmatack. Larch, often found growing over bedrock which causes its roots to grow in right angles, which made the roots valuable in the days of wooden ships.”

Ah, what a memory! What useful information! My mind sometimes seems to be the human equivalent of a pile of junk mail. Speaking of which. I’m getting six or seven catalogues a day this fall, and yesterday I got three from the same outfit. They must have a retarded computer.

Well, then I looked at the crushed stone on my driveway, and I thought of the Jordanville quarry from whence it came. You drive up a steep hill just before you get to the quarry and when you come down the other side everything has a patina of white rock dust. It looks like another world. There are rambly wooden buildings, part barn, part bus garage and part who knows. There is a puddle of water from wet-ting down the stones. There are huge front-end loaders, huger dump trucks, and there is the ever-present clankety-clank-clank-clank of the stone crushing machines. You get to weigh your truck on one of those outside scales that looks like a wooden garage floor. In the office next to the scale they tell you where to go to get whatever size stone it is that you want. Then you drive up some narrow tracks, past some piles of rubble, and past the garage fronted by a semi-circle of earth moving vehicles looking for all the world like so many piglets going at a sow.

Next you wind through some huge piles of gravel and crushed stone, but finally come out into about a 15-acre flat area which is bordered all around by 40-foot cliffs of layered limestone. On your right are cone shaped mountains of the various sizes and grades of stone. Above their peaks, on top of the cliff, you’re apt to see a dump truck spilling a wet and dark-colored load of freshly crushed stone which slides and cascades down the cone almost to the floor of the quarry. Far away on your left you can see huge dump trucks apparently racing each other across the quarry floor, some of them filled, some of them empty but all in a hurry. And all throwing up clouds of white rock dust. There are steam shovels, front end loaders, cranes… the whole thing is like being in F.A.O. Schwarz’s window at Christmas time. I also remembered back a dozen or so years to the first time that I got stone there. Little Japanese trucks were still a novelty then and were generally disdained by real truck drivers. I remember parking my little Toy beside the huge pile that I had been directed toward and very soon seeing an important yellow loader heading my way. As it approached it lowered its scoop and drove it firmly into the base of the pile of little stones. It backed out, raised the scoop over its head, swiveled and moved toward me stopping with its full load poised high above the back of my truck. The driver looked at me, and I looked at the driver. He released his load and my little truck crunched, quivered, squatted and groaned under about twice its load limit. The loader backed off and moved hurriedly to the other side of the quarry. And I was left to lurch and sway the 20 miles home.

Meanwhile, back at the leaf pile, most of my leaves had blown away and as I came out of the quarry reverie, a red truck filled with dirt went by my drive and I thought of all the earth-moving that was going on nearby at Five Mile Point. And I thought how nice it is of them to be providing such pretty little units for not much more than $100,000 apiece so that the underprivileged can have access to the lake. But then I was interrupted by a butterfly who swooped by and my thoughts shifted to my new puppy, because my new puppy is a pointer, but the only thing she points at is butterflies. And then I thought of how the butterflies fly south for the winter along with the geese and the ducks. And the docks come in, and the summer cottages close up, and tourists tour the South, and how nice it will be when the place is once again ours.

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