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Leaf Blowing or Raking: A Metaphor for Our Times

I was walking down a country road by my house this morning. It was a beautiful walk as evidenced by the photo I took that is posted here. We live on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, a few miles away from the base of the Three Sisters Mountains and Mt. Bachelor ski area. Maybe five to ten cars an hour travel down our street. So, walks are peaceful.

About a mile from our place is a home that is occupied by the ranch hand family that work the hay fields next to their place. They are folks who always wave and smile when we see each other. Today, the patriarch of the family was out front, blowing leaves off his lawn. It is early winter here, so the leaves were brown and dry. He moved them south to north across his yard and then east until they hit the road in front of the property. His mission was accomplished. The leaves were no longer on his property. I wondered where the leaves would blow next. Probably across the street to that neighbor’s place, as prevailing winds would have kept them from blowing back in the ranch hand family’s yard.

That is when it dawned on me. This is lunacy. Leaf blowers are lunacy and reflect some of what ails us culturally. And it’s not just on my remote road that the wisdom of leaf blowers should be checked. My mother-in-law lives in Southern California’s Orange County. Homes there are more tightly packed together than in my hometown in Central Oregon. When we visit her, it is not uncommon to hear leaf blowers going at 7:00 am. When I was walking this morning, I remember watching leaves get blown into gutters in Southern California.

Here are what leaf blowers do:

  1. Make a lot of noise

  2. Pollute the air

  3. Consume energy

  4. Move leaves and scatter leaves to another location

Here are what rakes do:

  1. Collect things without making much noise

  2. Operate without exhaust

  3. Provide some exercise

  4. Move leaves to a specific spot where they are easy to pick up

The leaf blower is a metaphor for how we are treating each other. Or maybe better said, the leaf blowing operator with the leaf blower machine is the metaphor. After my walk this morning, I think we should consider rakes and raking instead.

Leaf blowing has some lunacy to it. Raking has regard: for oneself, one’s neighbors, and one’s planet.

The first analogy of leaf blowers and society looks at noise. Thankfully, on this walk I had on my ultra-fancy sound-cancelling over-the-ear headphones. So, I was less disturbed than I might have been by the motor-on-the-back machine. Even with my fancy headphones I could still hear the whining engine drone on and was put off by the noise. It dawned on me that metaphorically we are dealing a lot with other people’s noise. And some is not doing much good, kind of like leaf blower noise.

Then there was the smell of exhaust. There is no air pollution in Central Oregon. If you look at the poster map of the earth at night, you will see that Central Oregon is on the western edge of the darkest contiguous land mass in the lower 48 states. This means there aren’t many people living here, so there aren’t a lot of cars, so there isn’t much smog. And there are no large industrial facilities spewing smoke. When you add to this the winds that blow down every afternoon off the Cascades and over our open space, we have about the most pristine air on earth. Unless an apparatus like a leaf blower is exhausting. On this morning, it was. It dawned on me that today in communities around the country people are having to deal with hot air. There is too much human exhaust, not as in flatulence but as in a whole lot of hot air getting moved around just to prove a point that may or may not be true. Many people are exhausted from this exhaust.

Leaf blowers consume energy. I don’t think it’s wise to get into the carbon footprint of a leaf blower versus a rake, but between the making of the thing, the energy needed to ship it, and then the using of it, leaf blowers are clearly more fossil fuel intensive. And, this is a metaphor, too. Right now, we are wasting so much energy listening to, contributing to, and, ironically, trying to ignore some of this blah, blah, blah (which ironically sometimes sounds as shrill as a leaf blower on full speed). Reminds me of a leaf blower that ultimately does nothing but move leaves from one spot to another and eats up a ton of energy in the process.

A rake allows you to collect things without making a bunch of noise. Often, when raking you are collecting at least two things: weeds or leaves and your thoughts. Quietly gather is what a rake does. And it does so without negatively affecting your neighbors, like a loud leaf blower does.

Raking is a pollution-free activity. There is no ecological degradation in raking. Plus, you can more precisely put leaves in a pile. Consider this compared to blowing leaves around which probably means that some may end up not where you want them to go.

The health of our communities and our nation depends on the health of the individual. Healthier people are happier people. Fewer aches and pains help people feel better about themselves, which can provide emotional and psychic energy to give to yourself and to others. Ultimately, raking is a form of exercise and community building. You can lean on a rake when you talk to your neighbor. In this sense it is the opposite of leaf blowing.

Which brings me to the final point. Why do we need leaf blowers? Why do we need something that is not doing much except moving things from one spot to another spot? Humans with rakes can do this and, generally, in such a way that the pile of leaves is nicely arranged to be thrown away or used for garden cover or just left to decompose.

So, here is an idea. The next time you are in conversation or out and about or reacting to a social media post or staring in wonder at a newscaster, ask yourself, are you a leaf blower or a rake? Are you contributing to a solution without contributing to the collateral damage? Are you disregarding others and the environment or are you accountably taking care of your business and respectfully regarding your neighbor? You have a choice to be a leaf blower or a rake. Choose rake. Choose regard.

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