I realize that leaf blowers are controversial. The gas-powered blowers are noisy. If I lived in the city, I'd find them annoying.
But my wife and I live on ten acres in rural south Salem, where a leaf blower is not only unobjectionable for our distant neighbors, but a necessity for what I call the Leaf War I engage in every autumn.
It's a strange sort of war, because I don't have a gripe with the numerous large oaks that surround our house, nor the deciduous trees that grace our large yard. They're just doing their leaf-dropping thing in accord with nature.
Still, as I wrote about in a November 10, 2010 blog post -- the same time of year -- we have managed to create our own leaf battlefield by virtue of the landscaping decisions we've made during the 29 years we've lived here.
I have, you see, come to a understanding of the Meaning of Leaves after twenty years of dealing with them on our non-easy-care yard out here in rural south Salem (Oregon).
They simply do what nature would have them do. Leaves aren't out to drive me crazy come October and November, though sometimes in my darker leaf disposal moments it seemed that way.
If a James Bond movie featured an evil genius who was out to destroy the sanity of an arch-rival through malevolent leaf-manipulations, he would design a house with landscaping just like ours, arrange to have his enemy move into it, and then wait for him to fall apart.
Quite a few large oaks surround our home.
So no matter which way the wind is blowing, a massive amount of oak leaves will end up in our yard. Different trees also lose their leaves at different times, so just when I figure they're almost all picked up, the oaks do their tag-team thing and one will throw down a fresh bunch of leaves.
To make matters worse -- a lot worse -- our yard is filled with rocks, ground cover, heather, and other features which look great most of the time, yet become leaf magnets in the fall.
In addition, we've planted many deciduous trees over the past couple of decades. So the overall situation I'm faced with can be simply described as a leaf nightmare. At least, that's how I used to look upon it before I became a Taoist leaf-collection sage.
The key to my Taoist sage'ness is a marvelous piece of machinery, a Stihl backpack blower. I love it so much!
Over the years I've developed a leaf blowing routine that works so wonderfully, I'm highly resistant to giving it up on the occasions my wife says, "Are you sure you want to deal with the leaves again this year? We could hire someone."
I say "No way," in part because if we did hire someone, I'd turn into a grumpy old man who follows them around and critiques how they're handling the leaf removal process, because it wouldn't be exactly as how I do it.
This afternoon I set out on the third 2019 battle in my Leaf War. By this time of year most of the oak leaves have fallen. But at our rural house "most" simply means that a heck of a lot still remain. This area featuring native Oregon grape that I planted about five years ago usually is where I start, because it's a prime battlefield for me.
Here's the culprit: a large oak, or actually four oak trees whose trunks have fused into a single massive leaf generating powerhouse. Oak trees grow slowly. However, I'm confident that over the past 29 years this tree cluster has come to produce considerably more leaves than when we moved here in 1990.
Which means, as I said in the previous blog post, there's a divergent trend line between my age and the amount of leaves that fall in our yard.
Along that line, it dawned on me as I was dealing with leaves last weekend that the trees on our property are steadily growing bigger, hence leafier, at the same time my vitality is on a shrinking trajectory. So every year the leaves likely will be more numerous while my ability to handle them diminishes (slowly, I hope; so far my 62 year old body feels just as leaf-collecting capable as it always has).
Well, at the moment I inhabit a 71 year old body, and I was pleased to find that I still could handle a couple of hours of leaf duty just fine. I actually enjoy leaf blowing, since there's a considerable amount of philosophy wrapped up with it. I'll quote myself again.
Dealing with leaves has taught me a lot about life.
I've learned that I can't control what happens naturally. I'd prefer that all of the trees drop their leaves at the same time, so I could pick them up over the course of a week rather than a month. However, nature doesn't operate in accord with my preferences (if it did, I'd still look like I did when I was twenty).
I've learned that perfection isn't possible. I can't collect every leaf, nor would I want to. Our yard looks better when it has a rustic flavor to it, rather than artificially manicured.
I've learned that slow and steady is better than fast and erratic. I no longer wear myself out trying to extract stuck leaves from bushes, heather, and such at the same time as I'm doing the main leaf-collection deed. There will be time to refine the look of our yard during the (occasional) dry days of winter, when I enjoy picking up those stuck leaves by hand.
I've learned that I'm not the center of the leaf-universe. Though I'll admit that we've cut down a few scrubby oaks in our yard mostly because they were annoying leaf-droppers, I've come to look upon myself as an interloper in the much longer life span of the large oaks.
Some of them, we've been told by arborists, are well over 200 years old. They may have been growing during the Revolutionary War. Certainly during the War of 1812. Those oaks were here long before me, and some or all will be here long after me.
This year we had a crew do a lot of brush and small tree removal around several sides of our house, mostly for wildfire control purposes. A side benefit was that the additional open space gives me more room to blow leaves into areas where they'll decay, with no need to carry them away.
This is the area where the four-trunked oak leaves are blown. Today was a great day for leaf blowing, dry, calm, and not too cold. It's possible to blow damp leaves, but it takes a lot longer. Ditto for when its windy.
This tree produces small delicate leaves that are a pleasant contrast to large crusty oak leaves. I especially enjoy blowing its leaves, though the numerous ferns my wife planted between the tree and the edge of our lawn act as leaf magnets, catching leaves under their lower fronds, which requires me to do my leaf blowing from various directions to extract them.
I do get mildly irritated at the leaves in our yard after a few hours of dealing with them. But mostly my attitude is gratitude that we're able to live in a home with such beautiful surroundings, and that I'm still capable of soldiering on each year in my Leaf War. Here's a final quote from my 2010 post.
My wife and I bought our home when we were about 40. The sellers were a couple in their 60's who said they'd gotten to the point where they couldn't handle the upkeep on the house and property anymore.
For a long time, when someone asked how we ended up here I'd say, "We bought from an elderly couple who'd found the house had become too much trouble to deal with." Now, for obvious reasons related to our birthdates, I change "elderly" to "in their 60s."
I'm grateful that I'm still able and willing to blow, rake, and carry the mountains of leaves that fall in our yard each year. I hope to be able to carry on with my annual leafy get-together for a long time. Yet I realize that one year will be the last year I'm able to do this.
Almost certainly I won't be able to anticipate when that will be. Death and disability usually don't announce their impending arrival with any sort of calendarish precision. So all I can do is continue flowing with the leaf-falling as if this time could be the final time.
There would be worse ways to take a last breath than with a Stihl blower on my back, engaged in dealing with the recurring cycle of tree-life. Way worse ways.