First, kill all the leaf blowers

Reminiscent of Shakespeare’s line about lawyers, the New York Times used that headline to introduce a guest column, published today, against leaf blowers. ‘Tis the season, right? It does not specify whether we should kill leaf blowers or just the machines they operate. Either way, I agree.

Writing from Nashville, the Times’s guest essayist, Margaret Renkl, opens with a pastoral passage:

Into these perfect October afternoons, when light gleams on the red dogwood berries and the blue arrowwood berries and the purple beautyberries; on the last of the many-colored zinnias and the last of the yellow marigolds and the last of the white snakeroot flowers; on the shining hair of babies in strollers and the shining ponytails of young mothers and the tender, shining heads of old men walking dogs — into the midst of all this beauty, the kind of beauty that makes despair seem like only a figment of the midnight imagination, the monsters arrive.

Since I moved to a two-story house in Providence from a fifth-story apartment in its downtown (where I would regularly seek the death penalty for motorcyclists who gunned their engines outside Haven Bros. diner next to City Hall), in 2010, I have transferred my affection to leaf blowers and their operators. I hasten to add, in our ridiculous cancel culture, killing the operators is merely aspirational. Most of them should probably be deported instead. But I would support a government edict banning the operation of leaf blowers.

I’ve long hated the noise those monsters produce. I am no climatista, but even I was blown away by Renkl’s citation of studies on how much carbon monoxide and other pollutants, such as decibels, leaf blowers pump into the air:

This particular environmental catastrophe is not news. A 2011 study by Edmunds found that a two-stroke gasoline-powered leaf blower spewed out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup truck. Jason Kavanagh, the engineering editor at Edmunds at the time, noted that “hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor.”

Can that really be true?

California has just enacted legislation to ban two-stroke leaf blowers (and some other machines, such as generators, that are typical of California overkill). Let’s see whether they actually enforce it. (Doubtful.) Renkl argues, and I agree, that a lawn with fallen leaves is more beautiful than a leaf-free grass zone that pokes its finger in the eye of nature (my words). She writes:

Fallen leaves provide protection for overwintering insects and the egg sacs of others. Leaf blowers, whether electric or gasoline-powered, dislodge the leaf litter that is so essential to insect life — the insect life that in turn is so essential to birds and other wildlife. … Our yard is a mixture of grasses and clovers and wildflowers, so we can safely let our leaves lie. If a high wind carries them away, it’s hard not to wail, “Wait! I was saving those!

As I began to write this I wondered whether I should fess up at the beginning or the end to hiring a garden service that uses leaf blowers. I have a heart condition that makes it risky for me to rake leaves. I doubt that’s really true. I could rake them slowly enough to get rid of them before gusts of wind blow them back. But then I would have to bag them. World without end! Yes, I do feel guilty. Our back yard is tiny, with no lawn in front. Don’t kids rake leaves anymore? (Oh, and I actually have one of those!) I also don’t want to shovel the upcoming snow, either, but at least the shovelers don’t use snow blowers, at least ours don’t. I wonder how bad they are.

Woe is me! But this is the 21st century. Why can’t we send the leaves to the moon?

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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8 Responses to First, kill all the leaf blowers

  1. izzone62 says:

    To expand on my previous comment, I would say leaf blowers of all kinds are the very definition of noise pollution and many, many days are spoiled by the cacaphony of the monsters wielded by employees of companies who are the villains, not the hapless operators. So I must take exception to the “deport them” comment, sorry! that is a terrible unfair stereotype. But yes, these instruments should be banned under the City noise ordinance. And it’s not just in the fall… it’s all spring, summer, fall, and thanks to global warming, part of winter!

    >

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    • Good points, Izzone. Hapless operators indeed, but while in urging their deportation I am succumbing to an unfair stereotype, even an unfair stereotype is true in specific instances, and it is only in those instances that I urge deportation. Kill the rest. (Only kiddiing.) My next-door neighbors (really nice people) have a gardener who comes every Wednesday and they use their blowers in spring, summer and fall, as you say. Year round. Where is our mayor? Where is our governor? Deaf … to reason, I assume, and we can probably guess the cause.

      Like

  2. Kathleen says:

    Although it is probably not a problem in Providence, overwintering ticks in other areas makes raking up leaves a prudent thing to do. Electric leaf blowers are quite a bit quieter than gas-powered ones.

    Like

  3. Milton W. Grenfell says:

    A man after my own heart! I deplore how cool, crisp, leaf scented autumn weekends have been spoiled by the deafening roar of leaf blowers. The pleasant cardio exercise of leaf raking replaced by the gasoline fumes of leaf blowers… so their users can hurry off to the gym for their cardio exercise machines. And all while denying their kids the pleasure of helping with the raking, and jumping in the leaf piles. What a country!

    Like

  4. Morales says:

    100%

    Like

  5. izzone62 says:

    AMEN!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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