Leaves! At this time of the year they drive me crazy. From a distance, the autumn colour massed round the sides of our valley looks magnificent; but at close quarters its individual components carpet the lawn and choke the gutters with such persistence, week after week, that they become a menace to health and temper.

Leaves that land on our grass or in the yard make the place look like a tip. Those which settle on stone steps - being what British Rail no doubt would call the wrong sort - could easily break your leg by causing you to slip and fall. Similarly, the deposits in the one-in-four lane - already black and slimy - are treachery personified, since they turn any car which tries to brake into a toboggan.

In recent weeks I have read many an earnest dissertation by gardening experts on the richness of leaf compost, and the need to make the most of the autumnal fall-out. Great! But has anyone measured the sheer tedium of collecting it up?

There are, I know, machines which will do the job. But usually I find myself driven back on that most primitive of implements, the rake. Last year my wife invested in a couple of excellent rakes - good and wide, with springy plastic teeth - and I'd not deny that a certain satisfaction derives from seeing green sward emerge as the scatter of red, brown and yellow is scratched back.

Yet soon irritation rises at the very slowness of the operation, and at the way fresh droppers immediately start dotting the expanse so laboriously swept clean. Another savage provocation is the knack which some leaves have of landing with their stalks in the cracks between paving stones so that only a direct pull with finger and thumb will dislodge them.

When it comes to clearing, I am a perfectionist: as with mowing grass or weeding vegetables, unless I do the job thoroughly, I see no point in doing it at all. The instant ruination of one's efforts is therefore doubly vexatious. Yet one must at all costs resist the temptation to go back over the ground, picking up individual leaves. That way madness lies: the next thing you know, you will be trying to count the leaves left on the tree, or to estimate how many hundred thousand have fallen already. You are only one step away from Nebuchadnezzar, on all fours and eating grass.

Every year it seems to me that the trees close to our house have entered into a silent conspiracy to divest themselves at different times. The first and worst creator of havoc is a poplar, whose leaves are large and bright yellow. Close behind it, in terms of time and the power to annoy, come three ornamental cherries, strategically deployed to create maximum scatter. Compared with these, the mulberry is an only minor menace, as is the weeping birch. The fig tree, on the other hand, is in a league of its own for sheer volume, its discards being the size of dinner plates.

The simplest way of dealing with the problem would be to take no action until all the trees were bare - but by then deep drifts would have formed, killing the grass and plants underneath them, and in any case, visitors arriving during the past few weeks would have found the place in a mess.

There is always a chance that the wind will help. An easterly gale would blast the remaining leaves harmlessly away over our own fields. Unfortunately, the prevailing wind is west and, no matter how it rises and falls, drifts always end up in the same few favourite places.

Keep at it, then. As I rake, my mind often turns for solace to four of the most memorable lines in the Iliad. "As with the generations of leaves, so with those of men," wrote Homer. "[In autumn] the wind showers leaves to the ground, but when the season of spring has come, the burgeoning wood puts others forth. So also with men: one generation flourishes, and another withers away."

The words are spoken by the Lycian leader Glaucus as he challenges the Greek hero Diomedes to single combat in the gap between the armies battling for Troy. The simplicity of the original, which can hardly be rendered in English, makes the passage intensely moving. Thinking about it keeps me going for a while: is it not extraordinary that anyone could have expressed so poignant an idea, with such precision, in hexameter verse at least 800 years before Christ? But then I see a sudden swirl of wind ruin my latest handiwork, and I lay a bet with myself that Homer, who is reputed to have been blind in old age, never had to spend hours wielding a rake.

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