On weekends, I catch up with the Writer’s Almanac, a daily podcast by essayist Garrison Keillor that features biographical sketches and poetry readings. He recently featured a poem by Bruce Taylor, Middle-Aged Men Leaning. Four movements, four seasons, beginning as:
They lean on rakes.
It's late, it is evening
already inside their houses.
The children are gone.
Their wives are on the phone
talking softly to someone else.
When we bought our first home, I really looked forward to having a yard. Over the years, I weeded in spring, mowed in summer, raked in autumn, and shoveled in winter. It’s . The rest of the family didn’t usually help, nor did I usually insist. It was part of being the home-owner, quiet, basic maintenance that was different from gardening or building. Routines become rhythm after months and years of repetition, fit to the season, known by the route that I followed around the yard, followed by the satisfaction of reimposing clean order.
Midway through the routine, pausing for breath in winter or to empty the clippings in summer, I would lean on the wooden handle and listen to the wind in the cedars. It was a lot like Bruce Taylor describes, a quiet moment stolen from the day, solitary, motionless.
Weekends have changed so much since I moved to the Netherlands, moved into an apartment again. Maybe that’s why I returned to shoveling with such vigor over the holidays. Maybe it’s why this poem, as good ones do, touched.