Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The Sun is bright, the air is crisp and the leaves turn a wondrous range of colors. When I was a boy, there were also the special sounds of Autumn. As the weather turned colder, the last noises of lawn movers ceased and the world became quiet.
The whining of small engines was replaced by the unique soft sounds of bamboo rakes as people gathered the leaves into huge piles. There were the delighted laughs of children when they ran full speed and jumped into the piles. Dogs barked as they chased each other through the leaves and searched for sticks as if they were hidden treasures of pirates gold.
No one rushed at the task of raking. Adults spent a lot of time leaning on rake handles and chatting with neighbors about what they did over the Summer and asking each other how bad they thought the Winter was going to be. At the end of the day there would be the cracking sound as the piles of leaves were set on fire and we would warm our hands as the piles slowly melted into ash.
But somewhere along the way, the removing of leaves changed from being a slow, honored ritual, and became a noisy efficient task. Incredibly loud gasoline leaf blowers began appearing everywhere. They drowned out all hope of civilized conversation. The people not actually operating the blowers retreated inside behind closed doors and windows to try to escape the noise. Leaves were blown to the curve, where giant vacuum trucks sucked them up and carried the leaves away. The delighted squeals of kids playing in the leaves were replaced the revving engines of two-ton diesel trucks.
The new way of getting rid of leaves is amazingly efficient, and after the trucks move down the street not a single red oak leaf is left behind. But in the race for speed, an American tradition has been lost forever.
The point of gathering leaves in Autumn was never to see how it could be done the fastest. The ritual for leaf gathering was a way for people to celebrate Life itself. The older adults cherished the last few days of bright Sunshine with friends, knowing that soon they must face the inevitable dark Winter to come. There was solace in seeing that children and dogs forever live in the moment and take joy from the small pleasures.
A few years ago California had a voter referendum to try and ban leaf blowers. In our fast paced world, the referendum was soundly defeated. If I had lived in California I would have voted for the ban. Give me a bamboo rake any day. It takes longer and is less efficient than a leaf blower. That’s the whole point.