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Volume 15, Issue 45 ~ November 8 - November 14, 2007


I’ll Take the Rake

Leave me to peace, quiet and millions of leaves

by Eileen Slovak

Ah autumn! The trees surrounding our homes stand in their spectrum splendor, the grass is emerald green and warm days give way to crisp evenings. On one such autumn day a few weeks back, November 4 to be exact, we moved in to our new home.

On November 5, I awoke to find every square inch of the property covered in a blanket of two million leaves.

No matter; I love to rake leaves. Good thing, too, because I spent several hours raking, piling and composting all of that beautiful fall color. Satisfied the job was complete, I hung up my rake and went inside.

When my husband came home, I asked, “Did you notice I raked the leaves?”

“You might want to take a look outside,” he grinned.

Sure enough, in a matter of a few hours, another two million leaves had fallen. This went on for several weeks.

Perhaps I exaggerate the quantity of leaves; perhaps not. In autumn, a healthy maple tree can lose upward of 600,000 leaves. Multiply that times your trees, and likely it equals a long season of leaf removal.

Most of my neighbors use leaf blowers. Throughout the fall season, every weekend and many evenings they whirr away.

As I raked and raked and raked, I stewed about my neighbors’ machines, casually blowing leaves around while I busted my hump. A slight pang of jealously maybe? I decided to investigate.

In testimony to America’s love for power tools, the home centers and hardware stores of the world offer a wide array of leaf blowers to choose from. Prices range from $29 to about $299, though you can spend $999 if you wish. High-end models vacuum the leaves as well. Leaf blowers weigh between six and 26 pounds. That’s a pain in the back as well as the pocketbook.

Compare that to my rake. Rakes cost between $5 and $20 and weigh less than two pounds. But bending to gather leaves can be back-aching work. So for about $35 you can purchase a rake that also picks up the leaves.

Noise levels are as different as prices. A rake making contact with dry leaves creates a swoosh, swoosh sound. A leaf blower makes a deafening whirrrrrrr.

Noise pollution is measured in decibels, according to EPA standards. Seventy decibels or higher is considered damaging environmental noise. Twenty-four-hour exposure to noise at this level can potentially cause permanent hearing loss. Noise starts to interfere with our spoken conversation, sleeping, working and play at 55 decibels. Maryland state law regulates daytime noise above 65 decibels.

Most leaf blowers are in the mid- to high-60-decibel range: loud enough to be annoying, plus pushing the legal limit.

Wouldn’t you think manufacturers clever enough to produce a machine that does not surpass the 70-decibel limit could lower that a bit?

Air quality is another point of comparison. Most leaf blowers are powered by gas and oil. Because mowers and blowers do not have pollution control devices, they can create more pollution than cars, according to the American Lung Association.

Due to environmental concerns, California has banned leaf blowers near residential areas of Los Angeles, and more than 40 other California cities restrict their use.

Sounds extreme. Would Marylanders so willingly give up their power tools? I’m partial to freedom of choice. However, if the California example leads manufacturers to design more environmentally friendly lawn equipment, I’m all for it.

By the way, while I’m raking, I burn about 240 calories per hour. That’s about the same amount of calories expended on a brisk one-hour walk. Imagine! All these years I’ve been exercising and didn’t even know it.

For exercise, environment and peace and quiet, I’ll take the rake.

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