A Rake’s Progress

I have just started the annual ritual of collecting all the fallen leaves in my yard. Soon they will be carted off by a giant, smoke belching truck to a compost pile somewhere in the wilds of Ramsey County, where the leaves will be allowed to rot, much in the same way they are already decomposing on what we may laughingly call my ‘lawn’.

In an age when jobs of all kinds are routinely discarded, re-assigned or left undone, I’m not sure why I still have this task. Can’t it be outsourced or digitized? Isn’t there a highly educated person in Bangalore who can collect my leaves twice as fast as I can by using an app of some kind? Why do the only jobs that remain seem utterly meaningless?

Still, I rake.

It’s not like I’m actually clearing the yard, I’m just putting the leaves on notice that someone is watching and a token effort will be made. I don’t pretend to have enough energy or interest to get every last square centimeter of leafage into the barrel, unlike my neighbor down the street who has apparently gone over his lawn with a vacuum and a pressure washer. It’s that clean. I suppose the fall chores are, for some, a welcome chance to be busy.

Rakewell Prepares to Groom The Lawn

For the rest of us, it feels like a made-up activity – something invented by the devil to see if we can be persuaded to fall into obsession, destroying ourselves in the process.

Hogarth has already documented this too-familiar sequence in “A Rake’s Progress”, whereby a young dandy named Tom Rakewell inherits his miserly father’s fortune and takes only 8 short steps to wind up in a madhouse called Bedlam – all the result of poor choice-making.

Defeated and Insane, As Usual

In Stravinsky’s operatic version of the same story, the moral is “The devil finds work for idle hands.” So it goes for the man too enthralled with the idea of a pristine yard to see how this compulsion destroys his soul. The story always ends in a topsy-turvy bedlam of leaves.

Staying focused only on the jobs that are truly important is a daunting challenge and a test of character.

How do you decide if something is truly worth doing?

63 thoughts on “A Rake’s Progress”

  1. I’m feeling proud of myself because I saw that Dale, you were drifting towards “A Rake’s Progress.” Not often I see the leaps of that clever mind.
    “Bedlam” is one of my favorite word derivations. The hospital for the insane was “Bethlehem,” but the local area pronunciation, Cockney basically, made of it “Bedlam.”
    Oh Good morning all Raise your hand all . . . oh, never mind.


  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I just finished reading the blog entries from yesterday. FABULOUS WRITING, STORIES, AND EMBEDDED SONGS. Thanks to all who provide such great reading and listening and to Clyde for a fun? topic. One of the reasons I continue to make time for THE TRAIL is because of such great repartee and contributions.

    Which leads to the answer of the question. I make time for things that I find stimulating intellectually, emotionally intriguing, or invoking rest and relaxation. I also love activities which ground me–which is why I make pies, garden, or can my tomatoes. When I do that I peel tomatoes and toil while remembering my grandmothers and my mother who did this in years before me. In those moments I am connected to the generations of resourceful women who laid the groundwork for my life of privilege now.

    But more than anything I love to see images that invoke beauty and grace. Now and then I can actually create a piece of art that is beautiful and graceful which is so satisfying.


  3. Worth doing?
    Is it bleeding?
    Did my wife tell me to do it for the fourth time?
    Will it put money in my pocket?
    Will it distract or amuse me for a few seconds?
    Am I feeling guilty for not doing it?
    Will it make someone else feel guilty?
    Will it aggravate my children?
    Is it illegal, immoral, or fattening?
    Would tim do it?


  4. I’m reluctant to sound negatory here after Jacque’s inspirational answer, but more and more it seems to me that debates about whether things are “worthwhile” are only appropriate for those young and athletic enough to actually have the luxury of making choices. As I age, more and more the real question is: “Do I gotta? Do I really gotta?”

    The bulb in my kitchen ceiling light fixture burned out over a month ago. I have been walking around under that thing since mid-summer, looking anxiously at it. Amazingly enough, that didn’t fix the thing. After a lot of agonizing over the decision, the answer to the “do I gotta?” question came through as “yes, dammit.” Maybe I should mention that I’m terrified of ladders. Yesterday I finally quavered my way up the ladder, unscrewed the dim bulb and replaced everything. Stepping off the ladder on to my kitchen floor felt symbolic: “One small step for mankind, but one honkin’ big step for a bearded geezer quaking like an aspen leaf!”

    Would it be “worthwhile” to scoop the soggy crud out of my rain gutters? Oh, almost surely it would. My neighbor, the Lawn Nazi, would say so. But this time the question of “Do I gotta?” yields an answer of “No way! I got away with not doing this for two years, so let’s go for three!”


  5. Some tasks are left until they can no longer be avoided (or until the pile of _____ drives me crazy – in a house with three clutterers, this happens more frequently than I care to admit). Others are done because I get a wild hair (again – generally something has driven me over the edge and I have to take care of whatever it is – too many clothes in Daughter’s drawers that are too small, books to be sorted for donation to the library book sale, I can’t find a wrench because things are not back where they ought to be). I don’t think I can be as poetic as Clyde or as thorough as Jacque, but some things I do just because I enjoy them (like baking), because I am a curious soul (prepping for one of the music or art lessons at Daughter’s school), because I need to laugh and discuss and be with smart people who make me think (coming here, going to my book clubs, sometimes even at work…).

    Leaves, well, I actually kinda like raking leaves. I am not like Dale’s neighbor, I don’t mind a few leftovers in the yard. But I like the smell of the outdoors in the fall, and there is something about the rhythm of raking that is soothing. On days like we had this weekend, it’s a good excuse to be outside without feeling like I am avoiding work – and it provides a little extra physical activity, allowing me to justify a little extra dessert with diner. Bagging the leaves I am less enamored of, but that generally doesn’t happen until Daughter has had some time to romp in the pile.


  6. Is it worth doing: Should I go bike riding? Now Dale has me questioning that?
    Worth doing: why would a cat ask to go out the front door, come around to the deck. and sit and stare into the house from the outside, not wanting to get in? Cats would find the question silly or would have a secret profound answer for us.


    1. cats would inform you that anything they want you to do is definitely worth doing. It is why you were put here in the first place. If God had thought cats would look good with opposable thumbs, he wouldn’t have bothered with inventing humans.


  7. If it’s something that requires a bit ot thought, I will make a pro and con page with a line drawn down the middle, and, what else? make a list! This is helpful for big decisions like “Shall we move to Hawaii?”

    And once you’ve decided a whole ****load of things are truly worth doing, you’re on to: but in what order. Again, you can make a list of everything that needs doing and then see what is most pressing. If memory serves, there are other list makers here.


    1. I think the list is for the more long term things. It can be edited by default – a friend of mine makes her to-do list every coupla weeks. If something is on there that repeatedly isn’t getting done, she finally drops it – apparently that one wasn’t worth doing.

      Then there’s the quote I had up on the bathroom mirror for a while: One hundred years from now, none of this will matter.


      1. On the other hand, medical advances might extend all our lives to 150 or 200 years. And just think what the laundry pile would look like in 2111.


      2. I do hope you’re wrong about that Linda, and not because of the laundry pile. But unless they also find a way of mitigating the long-term effects of the punishment my body has received over the years, I don’t think I’ll have much fun after, say 100.


      3. Maybe to the tune of Italian Girls

        I used to think my chores could wait
        I let the laundry accumulate
        I hoped while I went out for walks
        Someone else might wash my socks

        But now my folly I can see
        I’ve piled it up for a century
        The towering heap inspires despair
        The darks and whites all mingled there

        I guess it’s time to get in gear
        To catch up now could take a year
        I’m weary of these laundry woes
        Maybe I’ll just buy new clothes


  8. Morning–

    Raking? Raking….? Hmmmm…. I don’t understand this ‘Raking’.

    I’ve got a lawnmower… is that the same thing?


  9. Worth doing? I guess I rarely think of “doing” this way. “Needs doing” is a biggie. “Want to be doing” is large. “Wish I could be doing” is a frequent guest. “Worth doing” doesn’t come to visit too often and rarely stays long.

    I leave the leaves on the lawn until the very last second. My neighbor to the north has the largest tree on the block in his front yard and those leaves hang on and on and on. I don’t mind the actual raking but I’m not crazy about the bagging, so I only want to do it once. At the very point where I think that my neighbor’s tree has finally figured out a way to not let go of its leaves, they drop. Then we rake!


  10. Leaves are only worth raking if you can jump in them when you are finished. We I think things that are worth doing are those things that bring us or others beauty and satisfaction.


    1. Yes! I like that last sentence. I’ve been wondering – since much of my life, like the other baboons is made up of doing things that need to be done – if there is a way of doing the necessary but mundane or tiresome or just not exciting things in a way that brings us or others beauty and satisfaction.


      1. boy, what a difference a comma makes. that phrase should read “since much of my life, like the other baboons, is made up of doing things that need to be done…”


  11. This group will appreciate this: a couple times / year I take some lights up to the chapel at the local Nunnery known as Assisi Heights.

    It’s a beautiful room and Sister Kathleen, who is in charge of the chapel, is a lovely lady.

    A local choir will perform in the chapel this weekend. And after they’re done I’ll take the lights down in the basement (also known in the past as a certified ‘Fallout Shelter’) until next month when I’ll set them up again.
    It’s a simple job that is worth doing.
    Last year I got to go up above the ceiling with the maintenance guys to watch them change a light bulb in their spotlights.


    1. Looks like a nice little spread those nuns have there. I have an almost 90 year old nun friend who lives in the convent in Mankato, also very nice, but not THAT nice.


  12. This is really making me think. Ideally, I’d like to agree with Renee that “things that are worth doing are those things that bring us or others beauty and satisfaction.” If that’s the case, WHY is it so many of the things I’m doing aren’t worth doing?


    1. I think the question needs to be narrowed down-worth doing in whose estimation? I end up doing a lot of stuff that I find utterly not worth doing at all, but they are worth doing to someone else who wholeheartedly does not want to it themselves, and so they hand over cash to me to do it for them, thereby transferring the “worth doing”-ness of it to me.

      Sadly, much of what is very much worth doing for me gets unceremoniously shoved downlist thereby, as having a roof over our heads and such is a precursor to me being able to do much else.


  13. That’s a tricky question, Dale. I have within me enough conflicting impulses to create several more or less well-adjusted people. I go in spurts. Some days the procrastinator gets the better of me, other days the control freak, task master prevails. I’m getting increasingly good at justifying putting off less enjoyable tasks and indulging in spur of the moment temptations.

    I grew up in a household where certain household tasks were designated to be done on certain days of the week. One of those chores, ironing, has been permanently dropped from my to do list. If it needs ironing, I don’t buy it.

    Is daily dusting really necessary? I don’t think so; and our oriental rugs would have worn out years ago if I had insisted on vacuuming as often as my mother thought it necessary.

    I like vs’ categories of “doing,” and, like her, have spent most of my life tending to the more mundane “needs doing.” I consider it great progress that I more and more tend to the “worth doing” and less time with “wish I could be doing.” If I wish I could be doing it, chances are pretty good it gets done!

    As for raking leaves, a bad back has pretty much permanently put the kibosh on that. That’s what you pay a neighbor’s kid to do.


  14. I think Virginia Woolf wrote about the liberation she felt when she was free of her parents’ Victorian authority and she could change how she did things-like not dressing in evening gowns for dinner and all the other automatic “must do’s” that were expected in her social circle. I don’t remember where she wrote about this. Pehaps in “A room of one’s own”.


  15. well, there are things that need to be done around here that also are worth doing. hoof trimming comes to mind (that being done for the month as of yesterday – yippeeeee!)
    the things that needed to be done today were milking, feeding, getting ready to go in to Duluth tomorrow, making cajeta and freezing milk for winter and making supper. along the way somehow i got it into my head to make chevre/chocolate truffles a la Cypress Grove’s recipe: http://www.cypressgrovechevre.com/recipes/holiday-recipes/chocolate-truffles.html
    it didn’t need doing, but OMG. made almond and coffee flavors and will give to customer/friends in Duluth tomorrow. i think the truffles would fit Renee’s definition – they will definitely bring beauty and satisfaction to 8 happy people (make that nine counting the Hubster).
    oh, and btw – as at Ben’s place – no raking!!!!!


      1. Oh, definitely. “Needs doing” and “worth doing” are not mutually exclusive. For me our daily meals fall in that category.


      2. i NEED to milk – not only for the goats but for my peace of mind. it’s my therapy, my meditation, my (mostly) calm times of the day. so it’s “worth” doing for a million reasons but it needs to be done also. i agree that needs and worth are not mutually exclusive.
        i would vote against “have to” do stuff or “should do” stuff. sometimes not worth it (like taking the “55 alive” safe driving reviews – uff da! – to get the 10% off insurance – is it worth it??? i don’t know) like Steve said after the first time – “well, that’s 8 hours out of my life i’ll never get back.”


  16. I got my two daily lessons in doing the worthy things–“Last of the Summer Wine”
    First the kidnapped the male guest of honor at a golden anniversary celebration and got him drunk, Ivy,. Nora, and Cleggy were all equally repulsed by the old couple’s public display of affection. In the second lesson they launched Barry into the sky on a huge kite.
    Two worthy tasks indeed.


  17. It would make me very happy if the things that I feel are worth doing were also things that I enjoy doing and also things that I get paid for doing. Unfortunately, those things are usually different.

    I spend lots of time at work. It’s worth it because I need the income and I’d hate, hate, hate to be unemployed or lose my job. So, every day I get up and decide that it’s worth it to go to work. That isn’t hard. It’s necessary. But I’d rather read…

    It’s also worth it to spend an entire sunny Saturday morning sitting around with coffee and playing my guitar. Oh, those walnuts down on the hillside? The ones that make it impossible to walk down the hill? It would be so worth it to go pack ten more bushels of them up and cart them off to the yard waste site but it makes my back ache just thinking about it. It’s so much more enjoyable to sit and sip coffee and play songs in the sun. So that’s worth it too, isn’t it?

    It was worth quite a bit to go to an open house for the 90th birthday of my friend Gordon’s mom. Helen was the director of the nursing program I graduated from in 1981. She is a remarkable woman in many ways and it’s worth it to me to let her know that I still think so.

    Putting on a music and art festival that is completely dependent on volunteers and donations can almost kill you immediately before, during and after the festival, and all of us have threatened to quit at one time or another, but OMG, is it ever worth it! So, I guess I’m back to what Renee said – if it brings me or others enjoyment, beauty or satisfaction, then it must be worth it.


    1. I wish I were close enough to come pick up some of your walnuts-I love black walnuts enough to make it worth it to pick them out.

      Trying to decide if I can find the time and the courage to walk up to the doors of total strangers and ask if I can have the ones on their sidewalks.


  18. And sometimes it’s the way I rake the leaves. If I’m pissed about something and slamming that rake into the ground, not so much fun, not worth it. If I’m in a calm state of mind and can focus on what I’m doing, or just let my mind spin off wherever – the “Be Here Now” thing – wow, that’s worth doing.


  19. For me the question of is it worth it is hardly ever considered. Its will I ever get around to it if I can. The important stuff in life is the stuff I keep trying to get to while all the urgent stuff keeps jumping up and getting in my way. I have a job jar that is bottomless and so I do not ever hope to fulfill my position of taskmaster to the point that there is not more that I am not doing than I can feel happy about having done. I do enjoy looking at a job well done when it is cabinetmaking or building a musical instrument but when it is raking or cleaning the garage or unloading the crap from the backseat of my car I say just ot clear out the big chunks and worry about the details in my next life. There are things I have to do… take a bath and do a meditative study on my breathing with my ears under water sounds just like a iron lung machine. Getting to the blog to see how the world is being put into perspective by baboons, trying my best to keep my kids on the grow for the moment path rather than the veg until later mode that is made possible today by mindless life sucking electronic brain vacs that seek them out form every crevice of the planet… I am not a raking guy. I have my riding lawn mower back at long last in time to suck all the leafs into the bagger and dump them onto the giant blue tarp to be dragged off into the underbrush to become top soil for future flower pots. The blisters on the hands of this city boy are ugly reminders that the physical labor involved in the renaissance man of the new millennium is not enough to go from work mode to run the tv clicker mode and back again. Remember when we had to get up to change the channel? I must get my fix of the arts, music art natural beauty and I am doing a major overhaul on my be here now attention glands which seem to have rusted over the last couple of decades. I think it has to do with the overstimulation that internet, smartphone, multitasking with notepad driving down the highway and doing my best to master the pressing priority placement predicament. Making the world a more beautiful place is a noble and lofty goal. Bless you all. I think you achieve what you set out to achieve. but often I feel like I’m hanging on to the reins of the bull ride at the bar in urban cowboy. Just as I am congratulating myself for making an outstanding adjustment to keep from being thrown by the last bucl of the mechanical brahma I get an abrupt spin in the reverse direction causing me to switch my attention to survival mode once again where I again congratulate myself for a nanosecond before the circuit repeats itself. Even as you get better and more skilled at riding the bulls get tougher and you absolutely end up on your backside on the bar room floor only to dust yourself off and prepare yourself for the next ride . I have two more new projects I am initiating as well as two old ones I am taking to the next level this chunk of life in the big picture. Whats worth doing? Anything that looks like it may make it better. One way or another. To stop trying is to give up. I wont be giving up any time soon. That’s important.


  20. We have been in babysitting in Evan for the last three days, the very heart of southern MN prairie, surrounded for these days by that most worthy of things, the corn harvest. Almost every field. While the dust they kick up and the things the plants put in the air aggravate my condition, especially on Sunday in all that wind, it is so good to be in it, watch the finish of the cycle. Normally when I bike the county roads here I have them all to myself. Now they fields are busy and grain trucks pass me, farm equipment rumbles by, repair trucks race out to the fields, pick-ups putter along pulling tall wagons of harvested corn. But it is delightful. I am in no danger, they take care for me. I make sure to get out of their way. They all wave at me, not even the Minnesota wave, but a full hand or even full arm wave.
    This evening we drove up to Redwood Falls for some fine dining at a place chosen by the grandkids, need I be specific for you? On our left the sky was a Mormon Tabernacle Choir album cover, the sun behind clouds, rays radiating down in an arc of blessing over the fields and the farmers at their satisfying work. We came to the point where one of my daughter’s churches sits on the prairie. In the foreground a combine unloading into a wagon, in the mid-ground the low steeple of the small church surrounded by pointing pines, and the sky endowing its showering of light over the whole scene and prairie beyond.
    We came home after the sunset, with the full moon in the east shining over the lights of the combines in the fields. A low cloud patchy cloud cover caused by 8-year-old grand daughter to exclaim that the moon was playing hind-and-seek with us.


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