Thursday, October 23, 2008

Leaf Me Alone

Here they come.

First they waft down in twos and threes in mid-October like scouts or pickets probing for the enemy’s weakness. Later in the month the main body arrives in their thousands, their legions, their hordes.

Falling leaves. Frank Sinatra can break your heart singing about them, and you can break your back cleaning them up. They are the price one pays for a shady yard and the magnificent display of fiery color we have been enjoying these past few weeks.

Well, the price some people pay. It seems I am the only homeowner in the area who does not have an illegal immigrant to clear up Mother Nature’s litter. I have always done my own leaves. We looked into hiring a yard service, but found they would charge $500 to clean up our modest little yard. Kathie, my wife and Finance Minister, said it would be better if I did it again. “You have nothing else to do and it would save us a lot,” she said. “It would be like working again and earning money.”

Yes, I remember those days, but frankly, I would rather have a paper route. But she is right in a way; it would be like working again: slaving away and not actually seeing the money.

Although we have a small yard, we have four large trees that spew a staggering amount of leaves into a very small space. When our kids were little, they enjoyed making huge piles and jumping off the porch roof into them. No kidding.

There are three maples, a horse chestnut, and an almost dead cherry tree. The horse chestnut is the worst. It not only puts forth leaves, but not surprisingly, chestnuts. When these fire out of the discharge port on my mower they become deadly missiles that can fell a grown man like a…..well, like a tree. I have often considered donning the kids’ old soccer shin guards to fend off the bruising chestnut wounds. I have to admit that I enjoy firing a few in the direction of our neighbor’s cat as she sashays through our yard on her way to wreak slaughter at my bird feeder. She can really levitate her fat feline ass as she dives for the trenches.

Since I know what these leaves look like, it really burns me up when I find alien species amid my native domestic crop. This means the ill winds of fortune are delivering the neighbors' output to my turf. I would like to sort each and every one out and return them with a sharply worded note. Now I am sure it works the other way as well, since I have been known to use the Prevailing Wind Direction approach to leaf cleanup. Still, it is human nature to assume one is getting the short end of the leafy stick.

We have to bag our leaves in Califon and leave them at the curb for pickup. In a typical season, I put out 50 bags of mulched leaves. Without mulching, I would probably put out more like 150 bags. This takes hours of work.

Here are the tools of my trade: leaf blower with vacuum attachment, several rakes, lawn mower and plastic garbage barrel. My modus is to blow the leaves into a pile, run the mulching mower over them, and vacuum the mulch into the bag lined barrel.

A word here about leaf blowers: I hate them. In October and November the drone of leaf blowers is the background music of our lives. My neighbor runs his 24/7. In bed at 11:00 clock we are lulled to sleep by the whine of his blower. I have to admire him though. He is a true warrior and engages each and every individual leaf in hand-to-hand combat. A leaf appears, and he is on it before it hits the ground. I prefer to let things pile up a bit before starting the mass destruction.

When people approaching the house are only visible by their hats, it is time to start leaf clean up.

I keep trading up my leaf blower. They all stink, as far as I can tell. My current model says it blows air at 230 mph. A 230 mph wind will flatten a city, but this thing can barely move you’re shoelaces, much less a leaf clinging for its survival to the grass.

I have tool envy for the commercial guys who wear these backpack blowers that look like the flame throwers the Marines used on Iwo Jima.

The powers-that-be keep making the job more difficult as well. You used to be able to burn your leaves and the fall air was filled with the pungent aroma. Plus, burning leaves was fun; at least if you were a guy for whom burning things is always fun. Now we have leaf blower gas fumes.

This year someone has decided that plastic bags are a no-no. We now must use paper bags. I bought some at the hardware store yesterday and they are more expensive than plastic, hold less, are more difficult to work with, and when filled must be stored indoors until pick-up day. So now anyone who lives close enough to the river to blow their leaves into will do so, or hire a yard service.

I will soldier on paper bags and all.

Although I sometimes wonder what would happen if I just left the leaves to their own devises. Let nature take its course. What could be more environmentally correct?

Plus I wouldn’t have to mow the damn grass in the spring.

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