Leaf-blown: The Wind from Hell

leafblower noise fallows atlantic

The guy lived two blocks away in our in-town community, so however agitated it made me, his nearest neighbors  probably took turns calling the sheriff’s department every Saturday and/or Sunday morning in the fall and spring to complain (to no avail) when the leaf blower cranked up.

Out of curiosity I walked up that dead-end block once just to see what massive landscaping project might require the use of a military-grade wind generator.  The homes and yards were modest and small there, as I expected. So the Blower Guy could not have had to do anything  that the old-fashioned, human powered and completely silent leaf rake could have accomplished in almost the same number of minutes–that seemed like hours.

But no. The blower strapped to his back must give him a testosterone rush. I AM THE WIND! Behold: the before; the after. Oh the power!

Oh the acoustic litter, the exhaust fumes, the waste of gas, and the disquiet of another neighborhood morning shattered.

Turns out I am not the only person in the world who hates leaf blowers referred to as Lucifer’s Trumpet or “the Devil’s Hair Dryer.” Just one awful statistic to dis-recommend these machines to one and all:

“Simplest benchmark: running a leafblower for 30 minutes creates more emissions than driving a F-150 pickup truck 3800 miles,” Fallows writes. “About one-third of the gasoline that goes into this sort of engine is spewed out, unburned, in an aerosol mixed with oil in the exhaust.”

Or if you want to dig deep into the altered state of leaf blower mentality, James Fallows in the Atlantic offers an exhaustive series of explorations into the good, bad and the ugly of leaf wrangling at 100 decibels.

“If it can be done, it should be done” was said to be the motto of the US Corps of Engineers when I was in college. It has many applications since. If we can invent something to sell and make a profit that appeals to a certain (almost exclusively male) demographic and pitch it as “more efficient”–to get said blowhard to the fairway sooner of a Sunday morning–then there is no reason not to promote the leaf rake’s Jetsons remake.

I think of the gas-powered leaf blower as the boombox of the suburban middle-class yard-snob.

“You can’t stop me from exerting my rights within my property to create a public nuisance that crosses said property lines and I don’t give a damn. I’ll shoot my gun and let my dogs bark too, and I don’t give a rat’s acetabulum if it disturbs your peace. I pay my taxes so I get to choose how I use my property.”

Yep. It’s legal. But it is not thoughtful or neighborly or healthy to ears or lungs or the ambient leaf-scented air.

Reminds me of a phrase I once read: You can do things in an uncrowded world that you should do in a crowded one. Some of us have not made that adjustment and the cowboy mentality persists.

Okay. Watch your blood pressure bucko. I just have a thing about acoustic litter and the arrogance and self-absorption of those who produce it, though I am happy to report that I have only once heard a leaf blower nearby during our Goose Creek years. Knock on wood.

Lastly, just to show you I’m not just a whining backwater curmudgeon complaining while not proposing an alternative, I’ll point you to the sustainable human-powered answer to our offending lawn-maintenance appliance. Its designer calls it the Scottish Leaf Blower. First, find a set of used bagpipes….

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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. Before the drought, gardeners would use hoses to clean sidewalks, patios, etc. but now it’s all leafblowers here in So Cal. Bad.