Seeing trees differently from Kilmer

November 08, 2003|By ROB KASPER

YESTERDAY, as I waded through piles of wet leaves in my back yard, I thought of Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees."

I don't think that any guy could write "I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree" after he had spent hours raking leaves.

Sure enough, it turns out that Kilmer wrote the poem in February 1913 in Mahwah, N.J., when the leaf-raking season was long gone. That, at least, is what his grandson stated on a Web site I found that outlined Kilmer's life. Moreover, according to Kilmer family accounts, the poet was sitting in an upstairs office, not raking the back yard, when he was inspired by the hillside view of maples, oaks and birches.

That reassured me, because after battling the backyard leaves, I have not been feeling poetic. In fact, I have been feeling downright hostile to those trees. "Enough already," I holler at falling leaves.

The first few times this autumn that I raked the leaves, I was swept along in the seasonal rhythm of the task. The next time or two, I tolerated the task. But by the fourth or fifth go-round, I began wondering if the barrage of leaves would ever end. I started developing a definite anti-leaf attitude.

This, I was told by various municipal leaf-gatherers, was the wrong mindset.

"Leaves are a wonderful resource," said Kim Reichart, the recycling coordinator for Howard County, who plants herself firmly in the "pro-leaf" camp.

Mixed with lawn clippings, chopped-up leaves can become compost, she said - an ideal soil conditioner for the garden.

Moreover, crumpled-up leaves can serve as mulch, she added. "I crunch up dry leaves by hand and bed down my bulbs and roses with them."

As mulch goes, leaves are "better than [tree] bark," Reichart said. Unlike some bark, leaves allow the water to penetrate to the bulbs, she said.

Indeed, Reichart and a colleague in Baltimore County, Charles Reighart, who heads the county's recycling and waste prevention management program, have been encouraging folks to hold onto their leaves. They want them to keep leaves in their back yards in compost bins rather than bagging them and putting them out on curb for collection.

They are giving away composting bins in Howard County. Residents can get them during daytime business hours at the recycling office (6751 Columbia Gateway Drive, Suite 514) or at the landfill (2350 Marriottsville Road), Reichart said.

Baltimore County doesn't give the bins away, but does sell them dirt cheap, Reighart said. He explained that the county has occasional rock-bottom sales of composting bins. He described these sales as one-day events in which a truckload of the bins, which hold about 80 gallons of material, are wheeled into a parking lot and sold for about $25 to $35 each.

The next such sale is set for mid-April, he said; the exact date and location will be announced in the spring.

Keeping the leaves at home saves money for the government, Reighart said, because hauling leaves away from the curb is a major expense.

Baltimore City will pick up leaves placed in clear plastic bags on the second day of scheduled weekly trash collection, the city's Web site states. But residents are also welcome to haul their own leaves and dump them at one of four solid-waste yards - 6101 Bowleys Lane, 701 Reedbird Ave., 2840 Sisson St. and the Northwest Transfer Station at 5030 Reisterstown Rd. The yards are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

In neighborhoods where in prior years the city had mechanically swept and vacuumed leaves, bagged leaves will be picked up on Sundays beginning Nov. 23 and continuing through Dec. 28.

In Harford County, says Becky Palazzi of the county's recycling office, rakers can dump their leaves seven days a week from 7a.m. to 5 p.m. at two locations: the landfill in the town of Street (3135 Scarboro Road) or the solid-waste yard at the southbound lane of the Bel Air bypass, between Routes 924 and 24.

In Anne Arundel County, bagged leaves marked with an "X" will be picked up at curbside on scheduled recycling days, or can be dropped off through the fall seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Millersville landfill (389 Burns Crossing Road) or in Glen Burnie at 100 Dover Road or (Tuesday through Saturday) at 5400 Nutley Sudley Road. Free composting bins also are available at these three sites, says Tracie Reynolds of the county recycling office.

After talking with the leaf collectors, I read Kilmer's poem again. Kilmer doesn't deal with the leaf-drop issue, preferring instead to recount a tree's better moments: "A tree that may in summer wear a nest of robins in her hair." That kind of stuff.

It is hard to argue against trees, and I am not ready to take on the Joyce Kilmer fan club. But as long as I am raking, I can't call myself a leaf-hugger.

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