More Than Just Calories Burned

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the weather was mild. That meant one thing. It was a perfect day to finish raking the leaves. With our yard being about ¾ of an acre, and no less than 10 mature trees dotting the landscape, fall colors bring lots of fallen leaves.

Two days prior, my wife and older kids had started the project, but there was still plenty left to finish off. So, one of my sons, Matthew, and I began to section the large yard into manageable bits as we had done many times before. As I settled into this seasonal chore, I knew I had some time to think and reflect as I do when simple jobs are undertaken. Gradually, as the piles increased, the yard began to show its underlying greens and browns, and the once scattered leaves stood ready for others to help with rakes and blankets in hand. Over and over, the leaves were raked into the makeshift containers, and carried down to the small wooded area below the garage that has become our endless composting pit. By the time that lunch arrived, a few hours of mundane labor had brought about a clean yard and a few relieved kids. They had made it clear, like before, that leaf-raking wasn’t their favorite activity, but had managed to push on through.

As I was teaching my kids the art of efficient raking, my wife and I found ourselves talking about the unseen realities inherent in this simple chore. Like how learning to just accept work as a young child makes life much easier as you grow older. Or doing a simple, physical job like raking leaves can turn out to be a good full body workout. Or even how good feelings can originate from not just a job well done, but also while the job is getting done. As with other situations, I am not sure how many life lessons actually found their way home. But no doubt leaf-raking gave plenty of time to discuss it all.

Beyond these lessons, I found myself reflecting on how leaf raking and other common household chores had long been the antidote to the calories incurred from large Thanksgiving meals, especially for prior generations that often did not view exercise as we do today. From calories earned to calories burned, some estimates indicate that a 185 pound person uses approximately 180 calories per half hour of raking leaves. Although household chores don’t replace certain benefits from moderate to vigorous exercise, they are one built-in way to burn off calories consumed from the pecan pie that I (and others) so love this time of year. Whether it is mowing the yard or planting a garden or sweeping the floor, movement requires energy, and calories supply the energy that we need.

The challenge, though, is that our culture of convenience is waging a war on unnecessary movement. Today is the era when men with postage stamp yards ride around in zero-degree turn mowers or split wood and clear snow with little physical activity at all. There is nothing inherently wrong with conveniences that reduce “unnecessary” activity, such as shopping online (instead of going to a store) or blowing leaves instead of raking them. Yet within each of our mundane movements is the opportunity to use calories, and thus combat the real challenge of health concerns that come with being overweight or inactive. With over 2/3 of men in this country being overweight or obese, never have we needed more natural, uncomplicated ways to burn calories.

Yet as the culture of convenience continues to search for ways to do more by doing less, we are all being swept into this mentality that simple chores, like raking leaves, are an unnecessary toil. As we started to rake the leaves in this particular instance, my son asked if we couldn’t just mow them all up like our neighbor had (whose yard is 3 times our size). Part of me understood what he was sayingꟷ in essence, there must be a quicker, easier way to get the job done. Isn’t convenience the ultimate goal?

In some ways, he was right. Still, by the time we had finished the yard, I found myself doubting the obvious wisdom he had put forth. Sure, I probably could have done something more innovative or entertaining with my time if I had gotten the job done quicker. But even more than the calories I would not have burned, I think there was something more important that I would have missed. I would have missed the feeling of toiling outside in relative silence with my kids. I would have missed seeing the yard gradually emerge again after being hidden under the fallen leaves. I would have missed time to quietly reflect in a way that silence and movement seemed uniquely positioned to allow. And most of all, I might have just missed the feeling that sometimes in my complicated life, I just need a rake, some elbow grease, and time to remind me that there is more to life than just getting things done fast.

There are those of you reading this who probably thinks that I am anti-technology, or just afraid to move into a new era. I would differ. Any technology that allows us to live happier, healthier, and holier lives is great by me. But at some point, when high powered leaf blowers and zero-degree turn mowers replace what can be readily done with a rake and some basic physical actions, I think we may have to consider we have gone too far. And not just because our waistlines are getting larger as we get lazier. But even more because what we are exchanging for “all the time” our conveniences bring might just be part of the rhythm of life that we all need.

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