Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Despite nearly 20 years in suburbia I still find the leaf blower to be at best a necessary evil and I try to use it as little as possible.

The first time I go out after the leaves start to drop I use the lawn mower to mulch them. The next time, after more leaves are down, I convert my electric leaf blower into a mulching vac and crunch up as many as I can stuff into the compost pile.

But after the pile gets filled I must use the blower to herd the leaves closer together to save some time and energy before I use my rake and tarp.

Unfortunately, I am in the minority. Most of my neighbors have lawn services that use leaf blowers, huge fans and tractors to shove the leaves into huge piles at the curb. The din is painfully loud and the gas smell pervasive. At least they finish quickly.

Those doing it themselves have their own blowers and fans that are just as bad and take longer to finish. My neighbors must work when they have free time and if that means going out as night is falling and working in the dark, so be it.

When I pull out the rake I am purposely slowing myself down. I can go out early and work quietly. I am not wasting energy but I am getting needed exercise. I can listen to the birds.

Also, I get time to think. Here are some things I have thought while raking:

1. I always know where my neighbor’s property ends and mine begins during leaf-blowing season because he will not go one inch further.

2. A pristine lawn won’t last more than a day before leaves come back on it, even if using a lawn service. So why fuss about it? “Let’s not finesse it,” my husband often tells me as we work.

3. Speaking of MH, raking is a nice way of bonding with your spouse. Every year MH and I start by getting in each other’s way but without saying anything we develop a pattern: he makes smaller piles, I sweep them into the tarp. Then we lug the tarp to the curb. The job goes faster and we rejoice in its completion together.

4. The birds aren’t happy when I work near the feeders but they are very happy when I clear the big leaves and uncover the bugs.

5. If you stop every so often you might find something interesting. One year it was a brown creeper heading up a tree. This year it has been a redtail hawk being harassed by crows and 15 black vultures circling over the house.

6. You can see how the lawn is doing up close, including where the mushrooms have come up, the ground ivy has taken over and the skunks have been digging for grubs.

7. Wind is the ultimate leaf blower. If I go out on a windy day I figure out the direction and rake accordingly. It amazes me how someone will try to fight the wind, wasting time and energy. Life is too short.

8. I would love to meet the person on the Shade Tree Commission who decided having locust trees on my street would be a great idea. Locust leaves are too small to be effectively blown or even raked, and the female trees usually have hundreds of hanging seed pods that fall and blacken the lawn. Luckily, this year was the one in three when the female tree on my property produced only a few pods. I would like to punch that commissioner in the nose.

9. Why don’t more towns require leaves be bagged? It’s hard enough driving on leaf-clogged streets, harder still to walk on streets without sidewalks where leaves on both sides make a two-way road into one lane. In the years I would walk home from the train every night I feared the oncoming car at my back that wouldn’t slow down. Luckily, I lived to tell the tale. When my town comes through the crew leaves almost as much behind as it picks up. I would think collecting ecologically approved brown bags of leaves would be more efficient and quicker.

10. You are going to see your neighbors and they are going to see you, whether you like it or not. So wave and be friendly. It might be the last time you see them until next fall.

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