Illusive Windfalls of Country Living


Rake into piles. Mow and shred. Rake into piles.Mow and shred.

Wait a minute, I said after a half hour of a job going far slower than I’d hoped. If I want pulverized leaves for the compost pile and garden instead of leaves whole as they fall from the tree, look there!

In the eddy of the road, drifting leaves pile up, and especially near the edge of the yard where the mailman’s vehicle pulls up to drop off mail, leaves are ground to a fine powder. They’re even inoculated with dirt microbes to speed up decomposition.

An idea is born: rake leaves into the road and let the few passing cars do the pulverizing and pick them up ready for the compost pile or garden. Brilliant. I thought.

I seemed a genius of low-effort homesteading until two days after my plan was hatched. I’d pulled an hour’s worth of leaves down into the road, and the VDOT Volvo road plow came along and pushed all my leaf mulch somewhere else–into the creek around the bend of the road I guess.

And so much too for picking up the walnuts falling into the road below the house. We were letting the cars do the work of husking them, waiting for another week of nuts to go pick up the hard black kernals to dry in the shed and crack sometime this winter.

So I guess the moral of that story is that the state right-of-way is not a venue for making my life easier and what sounds like a good “windfall” idea that might make less work for me is just a bump in the road for the guy behind the wheel of the Volvo Monster Machine– which, come to think of it, we’ll be more than happy to see come the first wet snows of December.

VDOT giveth, and VDOT taketh away.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Oh, noooo! Good idea. Maybe in the drive way?? When we lived in VA, the practice was to rake the leaves into the gutter where the county leaf vacuum would suck them up and cart them to the composting site. Problem was, they only made about 2 passes by each fall. In the meantime, the leaves got ground to nearly a powder. One year I got smart and started scooping that powder up for my garden. The nagging question was…how much petrol/oil/ect had that powder absorbed from the cars? Well, 30 years later, I’m hale and healthy for my age, so I guess it was a good deal!