From My WindowIssue Date: November 1, 2018
Leaves and Neighbors
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
Last week I took a vacation from unpacking and running to town to get all the little things you need for a new house. My "vacation" was staying at my brother and sister-in-law's house in Madison to pet sit. They were taking a much-needed four night break at their lodestar, Copper Harbor. My job was to take care of their home, their special needs cat, their dog and their two crazy and charming rescue kittens.
Their home is in an older residential neighborhood, and each house has a small lawn, with most graced with several large, beautiful trees. At this time of year that means the leaves are coming down, and plenty of them.
As I walked my doggy niece around the neighborhood I noticed some yards were maintained in a totally-leaf free condition, which required daily leaf removal; while other homeowners were taking more of a "we'll rake when all the leaves are down" approach. That got me thinking about the whole topic of raking and fall lawn maintenance.
The first trees to drop their leaves are the gorgeous maples and fruit trees. You hate to see those prettiest of trees lose their leaves first, but that is the way Mother Nature designed her system. The first falling leaves are anxiously awaited " or at least they were at our house when I was growing up. We were all excited to make leaf piles and jump in them. This activity has nothing to do with keeping a neat lawn and everything to do with having fun, therefore we were totally willing to work the rakes hard. The family dog usually joined in and we'd cover ourselves with leaves and then pop out, hoping to startle someone. We'd spend hours out there until a hard rain or strong wind put an end to the fun.
But the oak trees have a totally different approach to shedding their leaves. Oak leaves cling stubbornly to the trees, and only reluctantly start coming down in late fall. They finish shedding during the winter, meaning that even if your lawn is totally raked clean in November, you will have to rake again in the spring. We would be ordered outside to rake oak leaves. We didn't enjoy it, since we got all that fall fun out of our systems with the early leaf drop. It became a chore, and to avoid having to rake the leaves into big piles or bag them, we'd gather them up in smaller piles and then burn them. You had to be pretty careful with this activity since you inevitably rake up acorns when you rake up oak leaves. Once they acorns heat up in the fire, they explode from the steam inside them. Little hot shards of acorn go flying all over and getting pelted with them is quite unpleasant.
Living out in the country we had no "neighbor peer pressure" to rake the leaves; and I didn't understand why we just didn't leave them until spring. The strong fall and winter winds had a tendency to sweep most of the oak leaves off the short-cut lawn anyway. But in city neighborhoods, leaves can be a source of conflict and consternation between neighbors whose lawns are only divided by an "imaginary dotted line," meaning unraked leaves to your west may soon migrate into your yard.
One of my co-workers at the Marinette paper mill told this story. He was sound asleep at mid-day, being in the middle of a midnight shift working schedule. He was awakened by insistent pounding on his front door. When we went to the door, his next door neighbor, an extremely particular retiree, was standing there. This neighbor was constantly working on his immaculate lawn, and he had no trees on his property. But my co-worker had a few trees, and as they shed leaves, the unruly leaves wandered over to the particular neighbor's lawn.
The neighbor presented my coworker with three leaves, and reported he had found them on his lawn. He then turned around and left.
Another situation I was aware of involved a tree on neighbor A's lawn that overhung neighbor B's lawn. Neighbor B complained about the leaves falling on his lawn a lot; but neighbor A was of the "wait until they are all down to rake" culture. One day neighbor A came home and found that neighbor B had cut off all the branches of the tree that overhung neighbor B's lawn and stacked them on neighbor A's lawn. The wind might still blow offending leaves his way, but at least gravity falls had been averted.
I thought about this as I walked through our woods once I returned home. There are probably several tons of leaves on the ground in the woods right now, and they are still coming down. The result, to me, is way more beautiful and inspiring than a pool-table cover like lawn. No one could or will rake these forest leaves; however, they will no longer be noticeable in the spring. Mother Nature will allow the small mammals, insects and amphibians of the woods to use them for shelter and insulation during the winter; and come spring, the leaves will no longer be very noticeable beneath the sprouting ground cover plants. The leaves will be breaking down, in Mother Nature's perfectly designed recycling program, rejoining the forest soil as food for plants and insects.
Our quest for manicured fall lawns has led to an industry of leaf sweepers, blowers and choppers, attached to mowers or towed behind lawn tractors. The sight of these devices would have been totally shocking to our pioneer ancestors. In cities, crews come by and pick up and haul the leaves away, at a considerable expense. Some of them end up in landfills, some in composting/recycling. All of this disposal activity adds to the carbon loading in our atmosphere, which is already under great pressure.
It is obvious that Mother Nature has a much better system, kinder to the environment and perfect in design. But I don't think my old co-worker's neighbor, a member of the leaf police, is interested in a different system.
Have a safe, fun and happy Halloween everyone! I wish each of you a visit from a cute little ghost or witch.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.
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