Here’s a small morsel of good news in these otherworldly days:
even under “shelter in place,” we are all allowed – nay, encouraged – to go outside, keeping a few yards away from other humans, of course. But it’s springtime, people! And with fewer cars on the road, there isn’t as much traffic noise. We can take advantage of the smells, sites, and sounds of this season. Yes, the sounds… the whispering breeze, the birdsong. Ah, the peace of the outdoors.
Now, hold that thought.
All of us have to give up so much with social distancing. And our global predicament looms large – we need to reach a long way to find understanding with others. There are matters to which we must attend, challenges that must be met with imagination and resolve. And, truly, now is a good time to put away our petty differences.
Yet still, with all there is to sacrifice, I utterly refuse to give up my (nonpartisan) pet peeves.
There are things that will always irk me. Like hearing the word “issue” euphemistically replacing the word “problem.” Or how, for the fourth time, my bank has merged and changed its name: Truist®. The spelling is, of course, eye-rollingly silly, but the name begs the question: “Can truth be quantified?”
But those aren’t the pet peeves I came here to talk about.
Okay. Here goes (And I know I’m in the vast minority here):
I do not like leaf blowers.
A lot of folks cannot abide the thought of walking through their yards without succumbing to the urge to mechanically alter their environs with machines that blast air. What naturally falls from trees must be immediately kicked to the curb, as it were.
I know people who move leaves with leaf blowers to avoid the extra time and physical strain of raking. Then, when they are finished, they don moisture-wicking clothing, put on expensive shoes, hook white speaker pods into their ears, and run. (Only to return from whence they came. Rest assured, when I am running, something is pursuing me.)
I know homeowners who hire garden workers to remove pine straw from their yards with leaf blowers. And then those homeowners buy bales of pine straw from their garden workers.
Moving leaves should not require hearing protection.
The hearing healthcare site Amplification states:
“Scientists have discovered that when hearing is damaged by prolonged exposure to loud noise, the brain may also experience the effects. Noise-induced hearing loss not only affects hearing, but it could also affect the brain’s ability to recognize speech.”
In other words, the noise of leaf blowers makes you stupider.
That’s why the interstate rest stops of South Carolina have signs posted for the maintenance workers that read, “NO LEAF BLOWERS INSIDE BUILDING.”
When the universities reopen, I will return to a couple of projects at the home of my old day-job, that beloved college north of Covington. It is a profoundly beautiful place and a sacred spot for me and for many. In fact, the Quad of this campus is known as, “The Cathedral in the Trees.”
There are photo-op-ready benches strewn about beneath the stately white oaks; the visage appears to be an empyreal place of learning suited for convivial, erudite conversations, or for the more eremitical thinker, a sanctum of solitude and contemplation.
But, no! During all daylight hours, the whiny screams of leaf blowers are literally blowing away any possibility of tranquility.
Oh, but it is a national craze.
I was strolling through the old North Campus of the University of Georgia this past Autumn, conversing with my dearest old friend, Ron Balthazor. Ron is a Senior Academic Professional who teaches composition and Environmental Literature, and is the director of UGA’s Sustainability Certificate. As we walked past the stately Chapel, we were assaulted by the leaf blower army.
Ron mounted the steps of the Chapel, shook his fist and shouted,
“Behold! They never leaf them alone! (A-hem.) They blow and vacuum until the ground is bare and then they PUT DOWN MULCH! What madness! A four-hundred-million-year-old system, completely compromised! An EPCOT arboretum! A sanitized simulation of a beautifully complex ecology!”*
We buy more and more stuff to make our work go by more quickly, to speed up life so we can get to the next thing.
But sometimes the work is the life.
And the exercise.
And the solitude.
And the joy.
Without any additional noise.
This may be a good time for us all to reevaluate how we live.
Most of all, let’s endeavor to be kind to each other and have as happy a Spring as we can.
Might as well.
- • • •
*Dr. Balthazor didn’t really mount the Chapel steps — I wrote that for dramatic color. He just muttered those words as we walked. He will be retiring this year and is a curmudgeon-in-training.
An actual sign outside the restroom building at an interstate rest stop in South Carolina.