A leaf-cleanup confession

Global warming be darned. I just bought a leaf blower.

17: One hour of leaf blowing creates the pollution of this many cars running for an hour, according to one California task force.
juliette Borda
17: One hour of leaf blowing creates the pollution of this many cars running for an hour, according to one California task force.

AS MY WIFE AND I WATCHED THE LATE-AUTUMN LEAVES FLOAT to the ground from the tall trees lining our lot, I got to thinking. Every fall those leaves turn beautiful colors and then gradually accumulate in our yard — particularly gradually this year, it seems, with leaves on the trees past Thanksgiving. Then it’s time for rakes, huge paper bags, and many trips to the town dump. Every fall, the same routine; every year, I’m taken by surprise. Why is that?

 Because my high school biology teacher omitted at least half the story. Despite all his admirable qualities — such as earning a reputation as a pioneer in the protection of wetlands in the United States — Erwin Ernst suggested the “miracle of photosynthesis” was one of the most wonderful things in nature. Maybe it feels that way if you are only looking at the trees through a classroom window. Or if you have 10 children and make them do all the yardwork (as he did). But the inconvenient truth, I now realize, is that photosynthesis does not look so wonderful when you’re raking 200 bags of leaves. It looks like a nightmare.

 For 22 years now, we’ve lived on a corner lot in a heavily treed neighborhood in Lexington. While there are many benefits to owning a corner lot, not having any wooded area out back for leaf tossing is not one of them. And we’re also at the bottom of a hill, where the leaves blow down to us without fail.


Still, most years my wife and I have chosen to do our own fall cleanup, driven by financial necessity, the wrongheaded belief that it would not take too long, and a strong dislike of gas-powered leaf blowers.

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 In neighboring Arlington, a civil war has been unfolding all year in reaction to a new ban on gas-powered blowers on private property between mid-May and mid-October. I sympathize with the anti-blower crowd — I, too, worry about global warming and dislike the noise pollution that echoes through our neighborhood each weekend.

Although I had bought an electric blower some years ago, that was as far as I would go. Besides, for the benefit of my four daughters, I had always tried to build leaf-raking into something bigger. I wanted to set a good example of hard work and frugality for them. I’d boast about getting free exercise — no gym fees! — in the crisp fall air. Getting us all raking leaves together, I’d turn the nightmare of photosynthesis into a dream of family bonding.

 As comedian Lewis Black would say, this was entirely “deeeelusional.”

 Clearly, many of our neighbors are not delusional. Most avoid raking altogether by hiring landscapers, men who arrive with all sorts of leaf blowing, shredding, and vacuuming equipment. Some of our other neighbors save money and effort by simply waiting for the leaves to blow onto our yard. Smart neighbors.


 Recently, one landscaper with a deafening backpack blower watched the futility of my electric-blower efforts. Showing some mercy — and perhaps hoping to acquire a customer — he came over and in five minutes did what would have taken me 30. I finally recognized the need for a different approach.

 I admit it: I succumbed to leaf-war escalation and just bought a gas-powered blower and vacuum. The thing may be noisy and polluting, but at least it’s fast and effective, replacing perhaps four hours of electric-blower noise with one hour of gas-blower noise. I honor our town’s time-of-use restrictions, of course, and avoid leaving the machine idling. I will make concessions to the reality of global warming in other ways to get my weekends back.

 I feel guilty, of course. Next spring, as a kind of environmental penance, maybe I’ll get a manual mower to replace my gas one. I don’t want to contribute to the next Hurricane Sandy, after all.

But if the rains and flooding do come, at least my yard will be leaf-free.




One hour of leaf blowing creates the pollution of this many cars running for an hour, according to one California task force.

Todd Burger is a business consultant in Lexington. Send comments to