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Leaf Raking

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I want to share some thoughts on leaf raking.

We live in a suburban neighborhood on Long Island that is lowly enough, working class and lower, where neighbors pretty much let neighbors be, though we do relate with each other. Guy across the street has turned his lot into a pool-table flatness of green lawn over the last few years. For decades it was a jungle of vines, poison ivy, and dead fallen branches. Now he has it mowed regularly and he put in sprinklers (note: though he works the lawn he does not mow it himself). Neighbor on the other corner works as a groundskeeper for a local school district… which means he mows a whole lot of lawns, and his lot is pristine, except the area where he stores his weekend freelance equipment and plays with tuning up his chopper.

Though I have no qualms about mowing the lawn, and enjoy the work, the smell of new-mown grass, and the pleasure of a flat (well, almost flat) green area, I also like weeds. I do have qualms about the use of fertilizer and herbicides. I enjoy plants that persist on their own – so our lawn is not exactly a monoculture of bluegrass fescue. When I do mow I avoid disturbing the devil’s paintbrush, and I never mow when the violets are hardy.

For a few years now I have been resisting mowing the lawn at all, and in particular I hold out until the grass that will grow in the acidic/sandy soil will seed. It is not easy to get grass to grow in our lawn and there are areas of persistent dirt. There are also areas where moss seems to thrive, and I like moss. I will even introduce moss into the scene. The failure to mow I call my “prairie restoration project.” I do this act of landscape resistance in fear all summer long that the self-appointed citizen “lawn police” will come down on me for having a house that looks abandoned. They do come down on me if I leave bricks lying about in obvious piles (I threaten back that I am storing up to build a large bear sculpture). I think about maybe installation of an interpretive sign. People do like to read things. The professional lawn-mowing neighbor occasionally stops around when he walks his dog and asks if everything is OK with us.

We have oak trees, whose leaves are fairly acidic as leaves go. Raking leaves in our household is not a communal activity… if it gets done I get to do it alone. I get to mow alone also. There is nothing wrong with this, to my mind, it is just that it is lonely, and in preference to a lonely mow I would rather watch a group of sparrows fight at the feeder.

There is also a difference of opinion as to the proper disposal of leaves. I am a stubborn and frugal sort on some things, and this is one of them. Most leaf raking activity that I see in our neighborhood consists of putting the leaves in paper bags and setting them out on the street. My immediate reaction to this practice is wondering why my neighbors are giving away their biological wealth. The trees suck up nutrients from the ground of the lot, they put a portion of that into their leaves, then they drop their leaves, and we bag them up and send them away to a landfill site – or a facility near the landfill where they are processed into mulch, which we can then pay for, spending more energy to drive our cars around with processed dead leaves bagged up in the trunk. This makes absolutely no sense to me.

About Gabriel Orgrease