Speed beats the Zen of raking

True Tales From Everyday Living

Real Life

December 03, 2006|By Andrew Ratner | Andrew Ratner,Sun Reporter

"When are you going to take the leaf blower out of the box?"

It wasn't the first time I'd heard such a request.

When my wife bought me a digital camera as a holiday gift a few years ago, she had asked that very question the following spring with the digital camera still in the box, never opened, just like a circular saw bought for me years earlier.

Not that I wasn't curious about the camera, but I'd depended on a very faithful, 35-mm single-reflex camera my whole adult life. Once I opened the new camera and tried digital photography, like a lot of other people, I never looked back. But new technology for me, like many people, is often vague and scary. Apart from rushing to a neighbor's apartment when I was 7 or 8 to see my favorite show on her new color set, I can't recall ever salivating over a new gizmo. The leaf blower clearly had a high hurdle to climb.

My family had bought it for me as a Father's Day gift in June. I was truly grateful and delighted at their glee in finding me a "perfect gift," but I didn't have to confront using it for months. Occasional requests that I blow around errant grass clippings last summer were easily dodged. By last month, I could no longer avoid the closed carton.

The truth be told, leaf blowers seemed unnecessary to me.

Rakes work fine. Maryland weather is suited for nothing better than collecting leaves on a brisk, sunny late fall morning. And raking leaves always provided a last chance to commune with nature, even while venturing no farther than a suburban backyard, before winter's bite shoos us indoors. I always enjoyed the Zen of raking -- the ability to let the mind drift more than most home maintenance allows.

As for leaf blowers, they're notoriously noisy. Actually, they're worse than noisy. They are autumn's nails-on-a-chalkboard. Their whine and belch have spurred protests by people who consider them obnoxious, inconsiderate and polluting. Laws restrict or ban them in many places, especially out West. Something about them particularly annoys stars of 1960s television shows. Julie Newmar, who played Catwoman on Batman, spray-painted the word ruido, noise in Spanish, near the home of a neighbor to indicate her displeasure with his leaf blowing, and Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible fame was a prominent opponent with his wife years ago.

Leaf blowers were introduced in California in the mid-'70s as a well-intended solution to cleaning walkways and driveways without the need for water. But if they were ever viewed as conservation-minded and Earth-friendly, that was long ago.

After my colleagues at work got into a discussion one morning about their horrors, I owned up to owning one. Like football, huge TVs and an inability to remember more than a couple of birthdays, leaf blowers were a "man thing," I was told. Here I was unsure I even wanted to use mine, yet was thrust in the position of defending my entire gender. One dad's-day gift and the moral high ground on leaf blowers was gone.

With the leaves starting their free fall a few weeks back, I opened the carton. My trepidation was not eased by the owner's manual. "Do not operate unit when you are tired, ill, upset or if you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication." Guns and automobiles deserve such warnings, but leaf blowers? And this one, "Never place objects inside the blower tubes." I guess that was in case I wanted to make it into a potato shooter.

But as I assembled and fueled up the machine, my reticence began to recede. Once I got used to the heft, and the noise, of the machine, I discovered qualities I'd never imagined when I was just the aggrieved person listening to one.

First, there was the "Moses" factor, this powerful rush in parting a great, multicolor sea with the sweep of an arm. Then there's the speed thing. Even the technologically fearful envied the Jetsons. George, Jane, daughter Judy and their boy Elroy would push a button and their house would mend and clean itself. The leaf blower isn't that automatic, but I collected dozens of bags in half the time it used to take.

And as far as the leaf blower being a "man thing," after a few hours with the device, I wasn't so sure about that critique either. What with the suction feature on the thing, if men typically spent this much time vacuuming, I'm fairly certain any historic tension between the sexes would have long since dimmed.

andrew.ratner@baltsun.com

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