Oak leaves

Forty years ago, the developers who built the neighborhood where I live decided to construct houses in an oak forest without ripping out all the oak trees; they preserved as many as they could. So we have all the benefits of living among oak trees: the beauty, the shade, the wildlife. We also have the costs of living among oak trees: the falling leaves in autumn, the allergies. For me, the benefits far outweigh the costs. I don’t complain about the oaks or their leaves; I am distressed whenever a homeowner decides to remove oak trees from his or her property.

The city owns a giant vacuum cleaner truck that travels around the various neighborhoods, reaching each neighborhood two times every autumn, to pick up leaves from the curbside. They only pick up leaves within six feet of the street. Many homeowners rake their leaves to the curbside and let the piles sit there until the truck comes and takes them away. The city shreds the leaves and uses them as mulch in the city parks. I strongly approve of this policy.

My house is at the end of a cul de sac, one of five whose driveways lead into the circular turnabout. As a result, the property is a trapezoid rather than the traditional rectangle: tiny little front yard; expansive back yard and side yard. Because of this arrangement, I don’t have much of a curb for depositing leaves; the driveway consumes half of the curbside and the mailbox takes up another quarter, leaving four or five feet for the weekly garbage and biweekly recycling pickup. Some years I’ve tried piling leaves on those few square feet available, but my property receives far more fallen leaves than will fit in that area. Besides, putting leaves there leaves no room for the garbage and recycling containers. So, like many other people in the neighborhood, I bag my leaves and leave them to be picked up on Monday morning, not by the giant vacuum cleaner, but by the regular truck that carries lawn and garden waste to the dump. Unlike many other people in the neighborhood, I put my leaves in biodegradable paper bags rather than plastic bags. In two or three years, even in the city dump, my leaves and their bags will have become fertile soil that eventually will find its way into the city ecosystem to the benefit of other trees and various plants. Mrs. Dim’s leaves, on the other hand, will still be encased in plastic when her grandchildren have reached her present age, providing no benefit to anyone or anything.

Saturday morning Mrs. Dim was busy blowing her leaves into piles with a loud leaf-blower, shredding them with her mower, and then emptying the mower bag into large black plastic bags to leave on the street. She is one of several in the neighborhood who handle leaves in that fashion, so Saturdays are often accompanied by chorus of blowers and mowers from dawn to dusk.

Saturday afternoon I got out my rake and my “bearclaws” and my paper bags. (Bearclaws are like rakes without long handles. They fit over each hand to enable the user to scoop up copious amounts of leaves and drop them into a bag.) In about one hour I was able to clean leaves off the deck, the front lawn, and the driveway, filling nine bags. I stopped after that hour of work for three reasons. First, only eight bags fit on the curbside, two rows of four. Second, I generally refuse to spend more than an hour each week on lawn work. Third, an hour of raking and lifting and bending is about all my back and my allergies can handle. So the leaves in the back yard and the side yard will have to wait for another day—perhaps later this autumn, perhaps not until spring.

When I started working in the front lawn, Mrs. Dim was washing her car on her driveway. Mrs. Dim has a routine system of washing a vehicle with great attention to detail, often taking two hours or more to complete. She bellowed at me—Mrs. Dim never talks; she always bellows—”Hey, J., who do you think is going to win the War of the Leaves?”

I looked upwards. “My money is on the trees,” I told her. They’ve had a lot of years of practice, and they’re good at what they do.”

“I know,” she said. “I raked this morning, and look—you can hardly tell that I did it.” I could tell that she did it; there were a lot of black plastic bags piled on the street, but it was true that a few more leaves had fallen since the morning. “I’m going to wait two weeks before I rake again,” she announced.

“I think that’s a good plan,” I responded.

After that we both worked in relative silence. I enjoyed the shushing of the leaves as I raked and gathered them. I enjoyed the crunching as I walked through sections I had not yet raked. Unfortunately another neighbor was using his blower to clear his back yard, so I could not completely enjoy a peaceful afternoon, but it came close.

I imagined a further conversation with Mrs. Dim. I imagined her asking me why I was putting my bags of leaves back by the shed instead of leaving them at the curb until Monday morning’s pickup. I imagined me telling her that no one likes to look out their front window and see a pile of bags. I imagined her agreeing and saying that she always puts her trash next to the driveway so she doesn’t see them from the house. “I’ve noticed,” I would say, because her driveway and her trash are what I see when I look out the front window of my house.

That’s the price of having a trapezoidal lot with an expansive back lawn and side lawn and a tiny front lawn. When Mrs. Dim washes her car, it’s as if she’s doing it in our front lawn; it’s right outside our living room windows. When Mrs. Dim blows her leaves or mows and trims and edges, her noisy tasks are happening right in front of our house. When Mrs. Dim carries on a conversation with another neighbor or with someone on the telephone, her words are broadcast throughout our house. What can you do? It’s not criminal behavior you can report to the police; it’s just one of the nuisances of having neighbors.

I should have a clever concluding paragraph to wrap up this rambling account, but nothing comes to mind. Feel free to add a conclusion of your own devising. J.

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