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Chatterbox: The sounds of spring


Power up the leaf blower, honey ... I’m goin’ out.

Does anyone remember rakes? How about fall cleanup before hand-held, loud, heavy, gas guzzling leaf blowers? Sure, there are lots of great power tools … I own a few myself, but I just can’t wrap my head around leaf blowers. Who can? Even those using them look completely perplexed.

Decades ago, here at Chatterbox, we laughed about the dubious, even aimless, look on most people using leaf blowers. We called it Deciduous Decisions; the perfect name because, despite the hard work, most people blowing leaves somewhere, never look perfectly sure where they’re blowing them to.

This ubiquitous leaf blower thing is mesmerizing. Yes, everyone who lives in a place where there are lots of trees, even if they aren’t ours, must do yard work periodically. Dry leaves travel. That’s just fact. After they fall, dry, rot and deteriorate, the menacing tumble of unwanted lawn décor becomes the very earth we walk upon.

Ideally, we would make our own healthy, organic mulch with them. Otherwise, they should just disintegrate on their own to become new soil for growing trees, so necessary to tree roots for defense, nourishment, and stability. Years ago, we could see them raked into circles around the trees. Of course, when they clog up at our back door, basement window wells and rain gutters, removal is necessary.

My lawn guy has a machine that simply grinds them into tiny particles, and that makes it harder for them to travel, leaving them for our grass and growing flora; and it’s all organic to boot. Those bent on removing them perplex many who endorse more natural policies. Still, there will always be people who simply must have them picked up and taken, well, somewhere else. For those of that bend of mind, lawn professionals have an attachment on their ride-on mowers to actually collect them and, indeed, take them elsewhere. This method is faster and far more cost effective than the leaf blowers.

Many of us are blessed with what today’s kids call First World problems, and leaf blower noise pollution is easily one of them. So, people just resign themselves to it, possibly twice annually: in flagrant confusion, for several hours, audible for miles, we may awaken to the growl of the local march of the blower brigade. That is a short line of staggering men, complete with that particular look of confusion, wandering in cadence, all awkwardly swinging leaf blowers.

Some have no destination. The team I saw had a very specific, common destination. Ultimately, progress was possibly slower than raking and bagging; they proceeded across their assigned, large open area to their truck. They’re unable to communicate with each other over the din, but that’s okay because they just play follow the leader, swinging the blowers right to left to right to left.

Eventually, at the truck, the men began the second line of their customer’s defense against a lawn looking anything less than pristine; they spend several more hours, fighting the wind while actually shoveling the piled leaves onto a truck bed. Ultimately, they leave, to the great relief of all who sympathize with the workers – or just fear a second round of the cacophony. Driving off, the men leave a mini-kite fest of dried leaves in their wake.

I had watched the line of men swing the noisy, heavy, gas gobbling, polluting leaf blowers and wondered how this was an advancement over the lightness and the far more Zen scrape of a rake, or the quieter, speedier, far more efficient – gallon for gallon, time and labor – option of a riding mower collecting them. It’s a good question.

“Deciduous Decisions” proves the downside of the leaf blower hasn’t changed in over 20 years, nor has that distinct expression of anyone waving one.

Does anyone remember that old television commercial with, of all people, Elizabeth Taylor? She shouts for her lawn guy with the leaf-blower to “leave the leaves where the good Lord intended them to be.” We may not remember what they were selling, but the tagline sure stuck.

Happy spring, everyone.

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