Hill of Leaves
We raked the leaves from the two large maple trees in our backyard. Our eighteen-month-old daughter, Sadie, chortled and squeaked as she ran circles around us, making us laugh. The ground was covered in an ankle-deep kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, and red. It was our first autumn in the house, having purchased the one hundred and fifty-year-old farmhouse in early spring. The trees had been bare when we made the offer, and we’d wondered if the large, gnarled branches were dead, adding to our anxiety over the purchase of our first home.
The fear had been spoon-fed to us by our parents. They had told us not to buy the old homestead. This was the original farmhouse. Fields of corn and soy that once surrounded the home now sprouted hundreds of houses. Houses with little backyards and no trees that cost three times the price of our farmhouse.
Our parents had walked across the uneven floorboards, some old pine, some linoleum, and didn’t see the magic that we could see. They didn’t appreciate the built-in hutch; they only noticed layers of paint because no one had ever stripped it properly. Where we saw future dinners on a table we couldn’t yet afford, with children not yet born, they saw floorboards with dust that could never be scrubbed clean. They didn’t appreciate the covered back porch that ran the length of the house and looked out over a yard where a tire swing could hang on a low maple tree branch. They pointed out the slight wilt of the porch roof corner and the age of the gutters.
We wanted this few acres of wilderness. Overgrown trees and brushwood gave us a barrier to fully admitting we lived in the suburbs now. We’d decided the choked city air and noise was not the best for our daughter and her future siblings. In this house, we could say to each other that we had not fully conformed.
The morning after we moved, having slept three on a mattress currently in the living room, we stood on the back porch, the cold concrete seeping through our wool socks. We held cups of tea, having managed to find the tea kettle in one box and tea cups in another. That spring morning, the maple trees sprouted light green shoots. The green lines traversed far into the sky in hundreds of veins, like they led into heaven, and gave us the peace we needed to say this would be our home.
We hung the tire swing on Summer Solstice and hosted a picnic for our city friends, who oohed and aahed over the built-in hutch, farmhouse sink, and the hidden upstairs room that we had discovered and turned into the children’s nook of fairy tales, complete with tea lights and soft fringe. The tire swing turned out to be too big for Sadie and too small for us, but was still a solid promise we made for our future.
We raked leaves into a pile bigger than ourselves. Sadie sounded more like a Tasmanian Devil the higher the hill of leaves grew. Finally, we leaned our rakes against the tree, and holding hands with Sadie, we backed up to the end of the porch, ran, and sprang into the pile. The ground felt harder than we remembered from when we were children. Both of us stood, dazed, our hip bones aching where we had collided against the earth. Sadie giggled and wanted to do it again but we looked at each other, the glee knocked out of us a little bit. We limped back to the edge of the porch to run, not as enthusiastically, with Sadie again.
We couldn’t help but notice the wilting corner of the porch roof that needed to be fixed before winter.