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Peterson: Quiet the autumn cacophony already

The neighbor kids yelling and screaming I can take. It’s their moms and dads with power tools I have a problem with.

These power tools are lawn mowers, trimmers, leaf blowers, and to a lesser extent, snowblowers. They shatter the silence of weekend mornings, afternoons and evenings – until the onset of Central Standard Time robbed us of evenings. We now go directly from afternoon to night. Ugh.

All summer long, there is the constant roar of gasoline-powered lawn mowers, and the sound simply does not stop. It moves from one corner of the neighborhood to another to another. On and on. 

As if people organized to take a number to mow so that silence was always broken by someone. North, south, east and west – the noise continues unabated. Every once in a while, all of the mowers will stop, and the silence will be golden. Just the sounds of kids playing.

If people could just organize to mow within a four-hour time frame on one day that would solve everything. Rip at it for four hours, then the balance of time would be quiet. That’s why we have government.

We have added to the roar of the neighborhood this year by buying a gasoline-powered lawn mower to replace the electric models that just weren’t holding up to the use and abuse of mowing. The electric model was too expensive for how long it lasted. But it was relatively quiet; it had that going for it.

The first time the gas-powered mower was fired up, our windows very nearly rattled, and you couldn’t hear yourself think. And I am sure people could hear our lawn being mowed blocks away, adding to the din of noise at odd hours.

I’ve seen the alternative to the noise – the push reel mower. No gasoline. No electricity. Just the brute force of pushing to power it. We were watching a TV show that is set in the 1960s, and one of the characters was pushing the mower with all his might, swimming in sweat. I don’t want anything to do with such a machine, and I am not recommending it for my extended neighbors, regardless of the noise.

The benefit would be the quietness, but the physical toll it would exact would be too great. I like quiet, maybe more than the next guy, but I’m not a sadist who would recommend old-fashioned push reel mowers for my neighbors.

But now we are in that time of year when our lawns may need one more good mowing before winter, and we are switching to raking leaves. The key word is raking.

Worse than the drone of a battalion of lawn mowers is the whining shriek of leaf blowers. They have been slowly catching on; more and more people are using them. They strap gasoline-powered packs to their backs, let them rip, and the sound they make is devastatingly shrill. And they can blow leaves for hours.

It used to be that we would burn our leaves in the fall, but the amount of air pollution generated by piles of burning leaves led that to be outlawed in most places. A choking pall would hang over cities as people burned their damp piles of leaves. It would be one thing if they were flash fires, but with the rain and dampness of fall, the piles of leaves smoldered. Government appropriately stepped in to stop it.

People had rakes, and families would make quick work of the leaves, raking them to the curb to be sucked up by leaf vacuums or bagging them for organized composting.

But apparently raking is too much work, and people are switching to leaf blowers. And it is amazing how much noise they generate; they’re worse than lawn mowers. They are the Jet Skis of lawn care.

Anyone who has spent time beside a lake over the past 30 years has heard the advance of the dreaded sound of the single personal watercraft piercing the silence with all its might. Motorboats make noise, but it is a deep, passing sound. The Jet Ski circles for hours in the same radius, annoying one and all except the rider. They are the worst man-made addition to lakes.

The same can be said of leaf blowers. Their shrill sound is deafening, and I can’t see how the person with the pack strapped to his back can feel any better as he slowly loses his hearing. But the possibility of blisters on your hands from raking must trump the blasting of the blower.

I’ll wear gloves and settle for blisters when I rake. The maple and birch trees lost their leaves this week. But I am not about to break the sounds of silence to get the leaves to the street’s edge. But no doubt there will be a sadistic symphony of blowers accompanying me as fall winds into winter. 

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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