No doubt, Westchester County, NY must be one of the loudest places I’ve ever lived. Its towns, the very definition of old school suburbia, rock the dBs so hard some times you have to retreat to interior spaces, windows closed, to avoid the aural attack, not to mention the emissions. Louder than living near a freeway, louder than living in row home Philadelphia, louder than you might imagine when you sign up for its green charms and non-industrial setting. Maybe that’s because, in fact, there is an industry going full-throttle most days (except non-snowy winters and weekends before 10 AM). Some folks call it lawn care but we call it the War on Leaves.*
Hear that, ornamental pear? Got that, magnolia? Your cast-off mulch fodder is going down.
An acquaintance of mine recently made the observation that if more men worked from home, leaf-blowers and their noisy brethren would be outlawed toot sweet. That’s certainly possible if, say, some other guy’s motorized racket interfered with your ability to watch TV with the French doors open. But, sadly, I think it might just mean escalation. If more male homeowners were around during the day, they’d probably start a lawn care arms race: who has the fanciest mower, the newest edge trimmer, the biggest blower?
Which brings me to the ducks. (Wondering when I’d get back to the eponymous stars, weren’t you?) Well, one of the things you first learn as a duck owner is that ducks have absolutely fabulous hearing. Far better than humans– well, 21st century humans anyway. From their earliest duckling days, we found that our birds could hear us through fire doors, in the backyard when we were in front of the house, through tiny openings in windows when we were whispering on the second floor. (Yes, it’s like having a baby around. Again.)
So it’s not surprising that I began to worry about how this daily noise parade would affect my ducks’ health as well their naturally excellent hearing. When they first went outside, for example, any passing plane would make them startle. Although part of that was visual–at 10,000 miles up, that flight to Cleveland sorta does look like a Cooper’s hawk (if you squint!) but anything mechanical and noisy would immediately catch their attention as well. During the summer, when leaf-blowers are not allowed, the sound of a gas-powered mower initially alarmed but they quickly adjusted. Then came September.
During the fall, the Leaf Warriors go into full battle mode. Most services employ not just one, but usually two regular blowers in addition to a mega-sized blower (something cooked up in Mordor, I think, or maybe Isengard.) Some operators wear ear protection; most don’t.*** And since every home is its own castle, most people have different services coming ‘round (our cul-de-sac being a little different, one company does most of the street) and that means some days/weeks an almost constant stream of leaf-wrangling cacophony from all directions. When the Orc Blower starts up, the ducks don’t just startle, they quack outright in dismay. I mean, who can blame them?
Look, I know people like a neat-looking yard. I know you can’t just leave leaves—they do need to be (mostly) cleared and, preferably, moved to places where they can do some good, like a mulch pile or into your wintering flowerbeds. I’m not suggesting burning them (as much as I fondly remember that smell from childhood, soot is not a solution). I’m making a more radical suggestion: Why not use a rake? And a broom? Also, it doesn’t have to look so neat. Decaying leaves add free nutrients back into your soil. Free, as in, costs you nothing–no mulch to buy or haul or unload.
Of course, because I’m a wonky sort of gal, I also have a secret leaf-removing weapon. Well, two, actually. The first is my 11-year-old to whom I pay outrageous amounts of cash for leaf moving (and she gets outdoor exercise to boot!). The second is a leaf sweeper (see photos) from Lehman’s. Clued into this nifty device by an amused work-from-home dad (see! they do exist around here!), I bought it last year but didn’t get around to having it assembled until recently. Was the $189.95 USA-made device worth paying/waiting for? Well, it’s much better than a rake (and it bags the leaves as you go so you can move ‘em where you need ‘em) but a bit more physical than I planned. In other words, I got an accidental workout along with a leaf pile.
Which means, around here, the loudest sound you’ll hear come autumn is some huffing and puffing and the creaking of these ol’ bones.
*Seasonally adjusted. In the spring/summer, it’s the War on Weeds.
**Decibel rating: eHow.com says backpack mounted gas-powered between 75 and 100 and further web browsing indicates some as low as 65 dBs—still not fun for unwilling listeners. It’s much louder for the operator, of course, and worse when you get more than one at a time, as is common during autumn leaf clearance.
***As much as I dislike leaf-blowers, I worry about the men who operate them, too.
Note: As previously blogged, we also use lawn services sometimes. I’ve asked the guys not to use leaf-blowers but they always look at me funny when I say that. Also, one of them showed up at the wrong time of day and completely annoyed my neighbors. (Duck) egg on my face, doncha know.
The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want; Garret Keizer; 2010; Public Affairs; New York, NY.
In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise; George Prochnik; 2010; Doubleday/Random House; New York, NY.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes