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I grew up in countries with only three weather patterns: hot, hotter or monsoon. We had no need to obsessively check forecasts before making weekend plans or deciding how many layers to wear. These are habits I've learned since moving to Minnesota.

Here, I love the seasons. For lilacs, and cannon balls, and hoarfrost mornings. But fall. Fall makes mundane tasks beautiful. A canopy of gold maples on the way to a child's soccer game. Getting groceries, a dogwood bursts into fiery red. And caramel apples and crunchy leaves and bonfires. Fall sneaks up on you and takes your breath away every year.

But not in 2020.

Author Nina Hamza
Author Nina Hamza

Kristin Jensen

Our yard is … I'm being kind here … not the best looking. Dandelions come and go, a tilted lilac permanently parallel to the ground, unintended hybrids of trees like Frankenstein's monster. Fortunately, I have the wisdom of age and just enough money in my pocket to hire professionals for lawn care. The mowing is perfect. The flower beds and any bits left for me to do is anything but.

So, I'm not sure what happened in 2020. I blame the pandemic bravado that made sourdough-bakers and deck-builders out of many. That year, I decided my kids and I would do our own fall cleanup.

We set out one afternoon armed with rakes and bags. The sun was shining, the air crisp, the smell of barbecue filled the air. Raking wasn't difficult. It was actually kind of fun. Satisfying, even. We could have raked all day long.

But after the raking comes the bagging.

The very words make my eye twitch and my hands clammy.

I watched videos on technique. I read articles on mulching vs. bagging. I browsed expensive yard vacuums and lawn sweepers with the same longing once reserved for fancy hotels in Istanbul. I bought big plastic mats, Wolverine-like claws, leaf blowers of various strengths. Tongs, funnels, tarps, shovels. We tried them all.

Our first lesson was that, contrary to the videos and articles, there is no easy way. Our method of choice was to lay a bag at the edge of a leaf pile, straddle the front, and shovel leaves with bare hands, under legs and into the bag's mocking, open mouth. It is as effective as it sounds.

Second, we learned that leaves don't conveniently fall at the same time. This was not a one-weekend task.

Third, wind and rain are mortal enemies of raking and bagging. Without fail, when we mustered the fortitude, so did the weather.

Fall leaves care little for your physical health, and even less for your mental well-being. If they are dying, their plan is to take you with them.

We stared outside every morning, despondent, mentally calculating how many bags worth had fallen overnight. Fall had become all work, and absolutely no play. No bonfires, long drives or caramel apples. The beautiful yellows that lit my bedroom window, the dusky reds that previously amazed us. We hated them all.

When the first snowfall blanketed our yard, covering our shoddy work, we cheered. In the 19 years since moving here, I have never cheered for snow. Bagging leaves had changed me forever.

The next year, when the first leaf on our maple turned yellow, I pointed it out to my children. Instead of awe, they groaned in unison. I didn't blame them. Not one bit.

We have, since, reclaimed our fall, because as I have learned in the past when attempting to fix a leaky faucet or cut my kids hair: some things are best left to the professionals.

Nina Hamza's debut book, the young-adult novel "Ahmed Aziz's Epic Year," was published in 2021. She's also an internal medicine doctor in Chanhassen.