Essays Written for The Plantation News

I wrote essays for The Plantation News, our family newspaper, between 1983 and 2003. Some essays recorded actual events, while others were humor, satire or fiction. The Plantation News transitioned from paper to blog and continues online here.

Raking in the Words

November 18, 2001

This year, our Fall season’s most useless activity, leaf raking, unexpectedly turned into an opportunity for vocabulary enrichment! However, after consulting the lexicon, we still don’t have our fingers (or our tongues) on exactly the right word. Suggestions are welcomed!

The redoubt
We live next to the woods, and large oak and hickory trees lean into the backyard from three sides. Each autumn these trees shed enough leaves to cover the backyard six or more inches deep. If we want to have a green lawn next year, sunlight must penetrate through to the fescue, nutsedge and weed mix that covers most of our backyard. Those dry, dead leaves must be removed. Mom and I divide the yard; she does the front yard every two weeks, while I do the sides and backyard, but only twice all season.

This year, in order to make some fun out of this arduous task, I raked the backyard leaves into a small enclosed clubhouse for the kids to play in. I made three interlocking rooms, about six feet square each, with leaf walls about two feet high. When my brother Ricky saw it, he said approvingly, “I see you’ve built them a redoubt!

Pronunciation: ri-‘daut
Date: circa 1608, French
1a : a small enclosed defensive work, usually temporary.
1b : a defended position : protective barrier.
2 : a secure retreat : stronghold.

Having been accused of building one French-named military structure (although the military value of a leaf-built redoubt is indeed in doubt), I pointed out to Ricky the results of my raking activity in the side yard, which may have produced another French-named military structure.

We have long had erosion problems in the yard to the west side of our house. With the help of the moles, the voles and a friendly groundhog, the side yard sediment is rapidly flowing downhill to the creek. It exacerbates matters that we are the last house on a slanted street, and all the rainwater that falls on our neighborhood washes past our side yard. Mom and I have discussed whether terracing the side yard would prevent the wearing away of the watershed, so this year I raked the leaves into long piles placed perpendicular to the incline. Maybe these leaf dams would slow the soil’s steady sloughing to the swamp. As I brought to Ricky’s attention these leafy landscaping levees, I asked him, “Have I built revetments?

Pronunciation: rE-‘vet-m&nt
Date: 1779, French
1 : a facing (as of stone or concrete) to sustain an embankment.
2 : embankment; especially : a barricade to provide shelter (as against bomb fragments or strafing)

Revetment is almost the right word, although my facings are leaf, not stone or concrete. And the dirt embankments don’t exist yet, until the soil washes into my leafy catchments. And my revetments would not provide much shelter from bomb fragments or strafing – no more than my leaf-built redoubt would. (And by the way, note that terrace and levee are also French words!)

Or Windrows?
Thus the lexical wordstock stood, until one of Mom’s German Party guests commented to me about my yardwork. Mr. Rich said, “I see you’ve raked windrows!”

Pronunciation: ‘win(d)-rO
Date: circa 1534, British
1 a : a row of hay raked up to dry before being baled.
1b : a row of cut vegetation (as grain) for drying.
2 : a row heaped up by or as if by the wind.

The definition of windrow is the best description so far of what you can see if you look at my rakings in the side yard. However, it doesn’t capture my purpose, which is to save our soil. Terraces and revetments include embankments of soil, which don’t exist, but may in the future, if my work is a success. Levees and catchments are meant to capture water, not soil. So we still don’t have exactly the right word for… my being too lazy to rake the leaf piles the rest of the way into the woods!

definitions adapted from Merriam-Webster

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April 24, 2019
09:48:45 AM