Blowing It

Muscle, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 12x9

Muscle, oil on canvas, 12×9

LEAF BLOWERS HAVE TO BE one of the most ridiculous inventions in recent memory. They don’t save time. They don’t save money. They waste energy. I wouldn’t care that people have been hoodwinked into thinking otherwise, but they also fray a neighbor’s nerves. Their noise pollution is inescapable, the rural equivalent of second-hand cigarette smoke or talking too loudly on a cell phone in a crowded restaurant. For hours.

Leaf blowers weigh as little as five pounds, and you can get a cheap one for under $50 (many are heavier, though, and you can spend well over $100 for a more powerful engine or a model that you carry on your back). But regardless of what you pay, it still takes plenty of time to operate them, based on my unavoidable aural survey of the season.

My neighbors have been blasting leaves for several weeks now, even in pitch dark during the dinner hour (it was windy, too, undoing much of their work). Then, at 7:45 Sunday morning, a second obnoxious machine — louder, even, than the leaf blower — came to vacuum the leaves into a small truck, giving the neighborhood an uninvited and unwelcome early wakeup call. I’m sure it wasn’t inexpensive, either — certainly when compared to a rake, which costs around $10, weighs less than one pound, makes intermittent noise that can’t be heard more than a few yards away, and doesn’t require electricity or fossil fuels to operate.

All that’s required to power a rake is a back-and-forth motion with your arms, an activity we could all use more of — unless you call walking around with the leaf blower exercise. Leaf blowers are just one more misguided attempt to retreat from the planet, trivializing our relationship with the natural world by trying to literally blow away its consequences. Listening to the birds or the wind through the trees, appreciating the tactile sensation of curling, crunching leaves, even the healthy pleasure of breathing fresh air — all are negated by the leaf blower.

One could easily make the argument that few activities that might otherwise be missed as a result of raking leaves are worth the expense and inconvenience of a leaf blower, but the amazing thing is that it took the neighbors more time to clean up their leaves than if they had raked them. I know, because the foul noise of these machines has forced me to be there with them every step of the way. There is no escape in any room of my house.

It’s not just noise pollution, either. There are, of course, the noxious carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and hydrocarbons associated with gasoline-powered engines. Granted, some leaf blowers are electric, but they all raise copious amounts of dust that can spread pesticides, mold, or animal waste into the air.

Our culture of convenience has people always looking for the easy way out, to do less work in less time. Marketers of leaf blowers have exploited this urge with false arguments.

Leaf blowers are bad for people’s physical and mental health, bad for the environment, inconsiderate and antisocial. We love our trees for a myriad of reasons: the shade they provide, the cool greens of summer and spectacular fall foliage. Why then, do we get so worked up about spending a few hours each fall gently exercising in fresh air beneath their graceful limbs?

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4 comments

  1. I live where no neighbors can hear my leaf blower and if they have them I can’t hear theirs, so in my case that part of the argument against them is moot. While I agree that they are noisy polluters I find mine to be much faster and easier to use for cleaning up the massive number of leaves around my house than any rake that I’ve tried and I own a few. But where it is superior to a number of other contrivances including brooms and vacuum cleaners is for cleaning out the dirt, stones, spider webs and windblown biomass that accumulates in my out-buildings, garage and cars. Oh and one more thing. They are great for providing the extra oxygen needed to get a fire going in a stubborn pile of damp brush.

  2. Leaf blowing operators become maniacs as soon as the switch goes on. I’ve seen people vainly trying to blow soggy wet leaves. There was a great comedy sketch quite a few years ago where a man trying to blow a cigarette butt lodged in a sidewalk crack ended up blowing out chunks of cement — but still the butt refused to budge. Leaf blowers are absurd!

  3. Well, I don’t blow leaves but I use gasoline to mulch and pickup leaves with a tractor. When you reach 86 you may feel differently about machine-assisted tasks.

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