Raking Leaves and Turning 35

Raking Leaves and Turning 35

I have three large, mature trees in my yard. A White Oak and an Arizona Ash in the front, and another White Oak in the back. I know the Ash is at least 50 years old, and I’d imagine the oaks are that if not older. According to my arborist, time is dwindling for the Ash tree. He swears their lifespan is 20-30 years, and mine is far past that. I have it aggressively cut back every year, and it loves to drop branches and frustrate me, but the thing is healthy.

Every year, he tells me that it’s time to “cut it down soon,” but I don’t like the thought of a big, empty stump in my front yard. Another reminder of what once was.

These trees drop a lot of leaves in the fall. When I used to live in this house pre-graduate school, I had two roommates, a well-paying job and was rather flushed with cash (though of course, I didn’t realize it at the time nor save nearly enough). So back then, I paid someone to deal with the leaves every year. $280, not another thought spent without it.

A lot of leaves.

Now, I live alone despite what any financial advisor would tell me. There is no budget for lawn care. I bought an electric push mower earlier in the summer and never felt like such a feminist until I mowed my own grass. In early winter, my Sunday afternoons have all been about leaves.

It’s a lot of work. I’ve raked, mowed, mulched and cursed at about 25 bags of leaves so far and there is still more to go.

Everyone tells me to get a leaf blower, but aside from a previous traumatic experience using one that randomly burst into flames (true story) I actually l like my rake, bag and mow methods. It’s mindless, repetitive activity with a lot of instant satisfaction. I love looking back behind me and seeing a perfect row of grass. I like carrying overstuffed bags of leaves down to the curb once a week for someone else to pick up and deal with. Most burdens are not so easily hauled away.

Today is my birthday. I turn 35. When I started this blog, I was 26, recently married, and living in the little blue house with our two dogs – Eliot and BT. I had just moved to Texas, and excited to get back into riding again. Nine years later things look a lot different. It is a daily struggle for me to point out the differences that are good versus the ones that feel like deep, never-to-be-healed-from loss.

When my birthday so late in the year right before the holidays, it takes on a New Years ‘esque quality for me. After all, it’s the start of a countdown to how many days the “calories don’t count” and before I know it there’s champagne toasts and a lot of “New Year, New Me” vibes going on. I take a few weeks to get ramped up, but the introspection about my new year always starts on my birthday.

34 brought me more change shoved into one year than I had ever experienced—and that includes the year that Tim died. I became horseless, bought a green OTTB, graduated from my MFA, leapt into my passion professionally, moved back to Texas, went to Thailand, and started a new job at a tech company just earlier this month. Most of the things on this list are undeniably positive, but I’ve never been good with change. There have been a lot of nights this year when I’ve tucked myself away in a house that felt big and empty after the 400 square foot apartment in California, feeling like a stranger in my own life.

When I went to Thailand in November, a great trip that I plan to write much, much more about, we did a kayaking tour around the islands in Phang Nga bay. Absolutely catered to touchy feeling “experience all the things” white tourists (which I am 100% one of), it included a craft to allow us to experience authentic Thai culture.

Loi Krathong is a festival celebrated throughout Thailand where people make elaborate, buoyant baskets decorated with flowers, banana leaves, and candles. They make a wish, and float the baskets out to sea. The symbolism is simple—let your hatred, burdens, and anger float away.

The festival takes place every year on November 1st, but for the kayaking company it’s a daily occurrence. While on the main boat heading to another island, we decorate our krathongs (a section of a banana trunk) in the way our guides tell us. After sunset, we carefully bring them to the darkest corner of a cave filled with bioluminescent water. That’s where we light the candles, pose for pictures (because tourists must document everything, especially borrowed tradition), and temporarily release our krathongs in the water before scooping them back so not to litter, and heading home.

I know how cheesy this was, especially in comparison to how amazing the real festival must surely be. I know it’s a stunt for the tourists. I know these things, but when my guide told me to make a wish as I pushed my krathong out, I wished for all of this hopelessness to leave me. To float away, and leave me hungry for everything and boundlessly optimistic like I used to be.

Even though it was a stunt for the tourists, I meant it.

I’m not sure what my New Year’s resolutions are going to be for this year. I’m ready for 35 to be a year of rebuilding and stability, but I don’t fully know what that looks like yet. “Have Hope” isn’t exactly a catchy resolution. It surely doesn’t have a hashtag. Plus, I know it’s not gone. Not fully. There are sparks of it here and there. Enough kindling to ignite once more. Dormant, but not dead.

Getting older hasn’t bothered me much until this year, and I think that’s because so much has happened to be from 30-35 that I feel like I blinked and lost my youth. Not youth in a scale of baby to 100, but frivolous youth. Youth that doesn’t have to buy retinol serum for wrinkles. Youth that could drink caffeine at dinner and not be away all night. Youth that could change careers every six months with no consequence.

That kind of youth is over for me. I didn’t lose it to partying too hard or backpacking through Europe (though I have partied and been to Europe). I lost a bulk of it to grief.

When I think about when I started this blog, recently married with the dogs and Tim in the little blue house, I mostly remember happiness. There were dark days even then, but they were far between. My first few years in Austin exist as a bubble of warmth, love and promise.

I don’t know what the next few years are going to bring me, but I think I will look back on these years now as the time where loved look different for me. It’s not in the form of a husband or a boyfriend, or any sort of romance. It’s a perfect, angel of a dog who is never farther than an arm’s reach away from me. In friends, who are always there for me in so many ways. I doubt they will ever realize how much they mean to me.

And love is in memory, so many of them. As a writer, I take point to preserve experiences with my words. With my camera, I do the same in pictures. Which means that I am flooded with tangible, concrete proof of how much I have lost. Some days it is too much for me, but most of the time I am thankful to be able to re-live it all for a minute, even if it hurts.

So, 35. I’ve started a skincare routine for born in the 80s ladies, which might make for a good resolution. I’m not sure how to tackle the hopelessness, but it does feel great to touch my face in the morning and find it surprisingly soft.

Tonight I’ll make my favorite food (shrimp and grits) and have some friends over for dinner. Filling my house with my favorite people and feeding them makes me unreasonably satisfied and happy. It’s like raking leaves, but way better. 10 out of 10.

I don’t know where things are heading for me, not in the abstract ways I want to. But I know the only way to have memories worth holding on to in the future is to throw yourself into the present. In that way, at least, my heart is full of hope.

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