You Were Taught That to Care Means Neatness

You were taught that to care means neatness
that care looks tidy.
It’s modeled this way everywhere you look.
Autumn’s debris removed from sight,
earth bare (barren),
swept, raked, scraped
clean, empty, sterile.

And so, at home, the place you care for most,
with your time, with your attention,
with your weekends and retirement days,
you blow leaves, rake beds clear,
cut back all the brown and spent bits.
Away it goes.
Leaves leave the garden.
Job well done.


Consider for a moment the ground beetle.
Have you met?
She’s black and rather large,
her hard shell protects her from all but
the mechanical storm
of your blower.

A winter’s day she spends sheltered,
hazel leaves her down comforter.
Night’s descent animates ground beetle,
her six legs a rhythmic pattern of prowl and prey.
Her feast? Our pests:
slug eggs, larvae, little grubs of the leaf munching sort.


A dozen plus one years ago,
neck curled like an Emperor penguin,
all attention on baby,
I looked up to see Fall clean up not done.
Baby. Baby boy, all my tending, all my joy.

Standing stalks of arugula, evening primrose,
poppy and sunflower.
There they remained.
Leaves blanketed the ground.
Winter slouched on
and no clean up was done.

Baby turns one, banana cake in the April sun.
Onward grows baby.
Onward grows garden,
a teenager making its own way.
Volunteer greens to harvest,
bees drunk in poppy bowls,
soil rich and fertile.


“Divide life by death and you find a circle” *
Do you see it?
In the garden it’s there,
in the native bee nesting in old stalks and sticks,
in the winged vitality of the finch dining on brown seed heads,
the fertility of soil, fed by decay.

Loosen up,
hibernate, let Winter watch Fall fall,
seep into the pores of life.
Sure, keep your paths neat,
your patios tidy.
Trim what nags you,
like the lily stalks gone to mush,
the ratty tangle of geranium.

Leave the rest.
Where she grows
there she dies.


This year, plant a thing for its skeleton,
for the beauty of its death.
Grasses are best at this,
give them a second chance.
And alliums, oreganos and coneflowers,
all radiant in their winter death masks.

These are the things that bring levity
to the white-lidded winter sky
of a Pacific Northwest town:
raindrops ornamenting the fur of aster seeds,
skitter skatter of ground beetle patrol,
cedar waxwings gleaning unharvested fruits,

and you



*from Colum McCann’s Apeirogon 2020

6 comments on “You Were Taught That to Care Means Neatness”

  1. Shari says:

    Wonderful perspective. My thoughts are drawn to lone hibernating bumble bees tucked deep in layers of leaf litter waiting for the warmth of spring to stir and awaken them into the new queens they will become. Leave your leaf litter lie….for the queens of spring.

    1. Leslie Davis says:

      Oh yes, Shari! It’s wonderful to imagine those sleeping queens tucked in for their winter rest. And heart breaking whenever I hear those darn leaf blowers blasting. I dream of commercial landscapes with beds tucked in with leaf litter instead of scraped clear.

  2. Ray says:

    That poem is beautiful.
    Thank you.

    1. Leslie Davis says:

      Thanks, Ray! You know those evening primrose in the poem originally came from your garden. And all these years later they persist, blinking their petals open summer evening after summer evening, feeding the finches and warblers every fall, sprouting up in new nooks every spring.

  3. Jenny says:

    Very nice.. thank you!

    1. Leslie Davis says:

      Thank you for reading and for all the nature-inspired work that you do, Jenny!

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