Why all the leaf hate? The leaves changing colors is my second favorite part of fall right behind waving buh-bye to the temperatures in the 90s. Coming in third on the list is walking through impromptu piles of leaves. The crunchy swishing sound is autumn’s theme song.
Yet loads of people seem intent on engaging in an ardent leaf eradication campaign. As soon as more than 10 maple leaves fall there are people in my neighborhood who go into DEFCON 1 mode, grab their leaf sucker upper artillery, and embrace a no leaf left behind philosophy.
This makes me sad because some of these leaves are gorgeous creating a carpet of red, yellow and orange that looks like something you would see in a fairy tale village. And honestly I’m jealous. My yard is full of pin oak trees and their leaves barely change color before they drop on my lawn creating a yucky brown carpet that would be at home in an angry troll’s cottage.
But even if the leaves in my yard are “trollish” I still enjoy the visual and tactical experience they bring every fall. This is why I’ve never understood the leaf as an enemy combatant.
Part of this mindset was formed when I lived in Northern Nevada and any kind of leaf disposal was seriously frowned upon. The fallen leaves were “nature’s compost” and if you attempted to remove said compost then you were signaling that you hated the environment and a group from the Nevada Nature Conservatory might just pay you a visit. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)
This all meant that my first autumn living in Kansas I was a little late to the leaf expunge experience. I still thought of leaves as our friends but after some unsolicited neighborly, ahem, advice I finally got the hint that I needed to “police my leaves.”
But then last month a headline making study said raking and bagging your leaves was bad for your yard and the planet. The horrors listed from vigorous leaf removal ranges from depriving your lawn of nutrients to contributing to heinous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions as your bags filled with leaves stew in their own juices creating methane.
(I can’t fully express the joy that this study brought me but suffice it to say it rates right up there with recent research that documents sucking in your stomach is bad for your health.)
What all this meant (the leaves not my saggy abs) was that my suburban world had been righted for the better. No longer would the house with the most leaf bags standing like crumpled sentries at the edge of a driveway on a Sunday afternoon represent cul-de-sac superiority. Instead the yard with the most leaves would signal that a nature humanitarian lives here. Rejoice, leaf lovers for our time is finally here!
When I told my husband of my plan to become a “nature humanitarian” and eschew leaf removal of any kind he laughed. His comment was that I would “cave to suburban norms.”
This statement wounded me. How dare he think that I didn’t have the fortitude to brave the side-eye of my neighbors.
Well, umm it turns out he was right. One very windy day as I watched a huge portion of the leaves in my front yard get blown onto my neighbor’s lawn, I felt guilty. It didn’t seem fair that leaves from my trees just turned their pristine lawn into an unasked for nature humanitarian outpost.
So, with a world-weary sigh I got out my mower and began phase one of leaf removal – mulching. I let the mower chew up the leaves and my rake no more dreams.
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