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Commentary & Opinion

Ralph Gardner Jr: Leaf Blowing Season

Ralph Gardner works the leaf blower
Ralph Gardner, Jr.
Ralph gets it done

When we were dating my wife excelled with the creativity of her gifts. For one birthday she presented me with a scale model of our pond. It came complete with miniature trees, water, and a baby snapping turtle rented from a pet shop on 14th Street in Manhattan. The actual pond boasted an intimidating adult snapper.

Several decades into our marriage the gifts have become less playful, more useful. They’re starkly oriented towards home improvement and, dare I say it, slightly selfish. For example, one recent present was a shop vac. It replaced a previous shop vac my spouse had bought me for some other birthday. I didn’t use the first shop vac and don’t use the second. She does.

However, another gift has proved inspired. An electric leaf blower. Until she bought it I didn’t realize how much I needed one. Actually, I did. Our house is surrounded by woods and this time of year they shed leaves. Magnificent quantities of them. First the maples. Then the oaks. Atlantic Oceans of leaves that bury our lawn.

I doubted there was anything I could do about it. I felt it futile even to try. You could rake or blow them – at least somebody could. But one windy day is all it took for the grass to vanish under a subsequent leaf storm.

I sometimes envied, while also sniffing at the homeowners in nearby villages who blew their leaves into neat piles, some of the deposits even removed by municipal authorities. Even worse on trips to places like L.A. were the ubiquitous sound of leaf blowers as gardening crews chased single leaves into the gutter.

So much sound and fury, I thought, so much gas and air pollution and for what? If they really wanted a challenge they should visit the Northeast come autumn.

I’m not trying to suggest that with the acquisition of a leaf blower our lawn is now prize-winning. The device is useful mostly for small, discreet chores. Such as exiling the leaves from cramped, hard to get spaces -- around our side door or air-conditioning units. It also works great on gutters.

My wife got the brilliant idea to acquire one after she saw the doormen in our New York City neighborhood using them to dispatch the leaves from their sidewalks.

I’m also grateful that she bought me – or rather us since she uses it as enthusiastically as I do on places such as the front porch – an electric model even though it runs out of power after ten or fifteen minutes tops.

Equipment that requires gasoline and a pull chord are not my friends. Besides the fact that I risk rotator cuff injury every time I try to start them, half the time I fail and then suffer the heartbreak of a chore ambitiously undertaken but left undone.

With my nifty new electric leaf blower – by the way it’s a futuristic light green model that lends me something of the agency I suspect Luke Skywalker feels wielding his light saber – once it’s spent I simply insert its battery into its equally handsome recharger and the next day it’s ready to go again.

The only problem with the device is that it can’t possibly match my ambition or the challenges Mother Nature presents. At the current moment there’s a carpet of compacted, wet leaves on our back patio that sneer at me when I try to send them on their way.

I know what needs to be done. First I’m going to blow them. Then I’m going to rake them directly onto a large waiting tarp and then haul that off into the woods as I do every year. Several tarpfuls dragged across the lawn, careful not to descend into woodchuck holes that dot the edge of the property like landmines, and then dumped in the woods and out of sight.

This sort of manual labor seems so 20th Century, especially now that I’ve experienced the simple ecstasy of a machine that somehow harnesses the wind. How? The motor and fans takes the outside air and spins it using the fan blades. I just looked that up.

But what its talents have done by expanding mine is to inspire me rashly to covet a whole range of other time and back saving devices. Such as a John Deere Gator. I’ve resisted the temptation to buy one the cost aside, even second hand, because I’m afraid that if I do I’ll stop walking and ride it everywhere.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s no heroism in hauling heavy bags of things like firewood from the woodshed to the house. So if my wife wants to consider a gift that matches the creativity of that scale model pond she gave me back in the day a small all-terrain vehicle with a bed box and windshield with a working wiper would be a wonderful idea. Sometimes she can use it, too.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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