Issue # 31
November 5, 2000
Leafblowers Are
For Pansies

By Rich Wilhelm

Just in case you missed the subtlety in the title of this column, let me repeat:

Leafblowers are for pansies.

Of course, let me state that there are exceptions: if you have a health condition that makes yard work difficult, if you're older, or if you have paid your dues with 30-35 years of conventional raking, then perhaps you've earned the right to use a leafblower to get rid of the pesky natural garbage that autumn produces.

But, other than that, leafblowers are for pansies.

Now, perhaps I'm not the most qualified person in the world to speak on the issue of autumn leaf disposal, since it wasn't something I worried about for the first 34 years of my life. I did help out at home as a kid and as a teenager, but I was mostly on summertime grass cutting patrol. My dad handled the autumn leaves on his own, though I don't know why.

Finally, in September 1999, I became a homeowner, just as the prime leaf-falling season was starting. The lawns on our street, which is lined with large oak trees, are magnets for literally thousands of leaves every year. I was busy unpacking for the first few weeks after moving in and I didn't even buy a rake right away. Meanwhile, the fallen leaves were slowly but surely carpeting the entire yard. Eventually, I debated the pros and cons of metal, plastic and bamboo and bought a rake (I settled on a bamboo model, for no particular reason).

Just because I bought a rake doesn't mean I used it. Autumn is a busy time for us and, having just moved, it was even busier that year. Finally, on the morning of Jimmy's 2nd birthday party, I started to attack the leaves, but quickly became distracted by some other pressing pre-party activity and wound up back in the house. Just a little while later, I looked out the window to see our very nice next door neighbor, Ida, looking over at the ocean of leaves covering our lawn and shaking her head in a particularly doleful "tsk tsk" manner. You can bet I was out on the lawn as soon as the party was over, bamboo rake in hand.

So I did as good a job as I could last year, but deep into the wintertime, you could still find autumnual leaf remains buried under the snow in our yard. I vowed that I'd do better the following autumn.

So, now it is the following autumn. We're about a month into leaf-falling time here in Pennsylvania. I let the leaves just lay on the grass for a few weeks, by choice. I am philosophically opposed to standing out on the lawn with the rake early in September, waiting for the first leaf to fall. I actually enjoy seeing the leaves pile up on the lawn. It is one of those times when I truly appreciate living in an area where I can see the seasons change.

I was going to do some raking last week, but I got lucky. Last Friday night was quite windy and during the night the wind miraculously blew 90% of the leaves on my lawn away. Of course, 85% of those 90% of leaves blew onto my neighbors' lawns and I did feel sort of bad about that. Sort of.

So, I got lucky last week, but I knew this weekend I'd have to buckle down and pull out the rake. Notice I said "rake" because, in case you didn't hear, I feel that leafblowers are for pansies.

Jimmy and I went out to play this morning and I planned on somehow keeping him in the front yard so I could rake. This, of course, didn't work out at first. Jimmy had to visit my neighbor, Scott, who was out with his leafblower. Scott is a very nice guy and much more conscientious about his lawn than I'll ever be. He's happy to say hi to Jimmy and me, but our conversations are always short so he can get back to his lawn work. After a brief hello and some time spent on Scott's swing set, Jimmy and I headed back over to our house. We hung out in the backyard for awhile, which didn't do me any good from a raking perspective (only our front yard attracts leaves), but I managed to get him out front so I could get started.

After awhile, Jimmy wanted to walk to the park, so my raking was done for the morning. We visited the park until it was lunchtime for Jimmy. After Jimmy had eaten and been tucked in for his nap, I sat down to relax for a minute in my living room, but all I could hear was the incessant hum of three different leafblowers. I quickly realized how much I disliked that sound, so I did the only thing that could calm my jangled nerves: I got into the car, played a tape full of songs by bands like the Replacements, Blue Oyster Cult, Sonic Youth, and Rush, and drove to Toys 'R Us to order Jimmy's birthday present. It is strange but true: after hearing a cacophonous symphony of leafblowers, I actually found the discordant, shredded guitar sounds of Sonic Youth to be soothing.

On my return home, the folks with the leafblowers had all finished their work and the neighborhood was quiet. I grabbed my rake and headed for the yard. The day was overcast, but quite nice. Just cool enough, with a pleasant breeze. I started in on the leaves and remembered how much I like the sound of a rake scraping the ground in its quest for fallen foliage. To me, that is the sound of autumn. After a few minutes,I also remembered that I enjoyed the simple exertion of raking. I don't exercise nearly enough and I'm not outdoors nearly enough, but confronting a yard full of unraked leaves is a great remedy for both of those situations.

The final thing I realized, and this clinches my dislike of leafblowers, is this: raking leaves is an activity that contains an element of the spiritual for me. Standing in my front yard, helping several hundred leaves find their way down to the street (a truck from the borough makes weekly stops to gather leaves from the street), gave me an great opportunity to reflect on what life for my family and me has been like since the last time I raked in the yard. Time for this kind of reflection is not something I want to give up for the loud and soulless efficiency of a leafblower. Now I'm beginning to understand why Dad raked his leaves by himself.

And so I say (at the risk of my neighbor Scott kicking my ass) leafblowers are for pansies. Throw yours away today and enjoy the rest of the autumn season!

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)