Sunday, April 11, 2010


When I see a pile of leaves, I want to take a running leap and fall into it like a giddy schoolboy. Probably because that’s what I used to see in the movies when I was a schoolboy—giddy or otherwise. Kids were always running across expansive lawns and jumping into enormous piles. If their older brother had been doing the work he would chase the hooligans around the yard with the rake. If Dad were the workhouse, he would just lean against a tree and chuckle, no doubt fondly recounting his own youthful leaf jumping.

The problem I had was the leaves I raked and swept from my childhood front yard were left in the street to be picked up weekly by large bulldozers. It only took me a few times to realize that an under layer of asphalt and concrete is not the same as spongy earth. I could do little more than stare at my well organized piles and dream.

My brother had it worse. He was responsible for the back yard, which required numerous trips back and forth with a wheelbarrow, and by the time he was done with his yard he was too exhausted to contemplate diving into the heap. Probably why he never hurt his back.

I still gather yard waste and put it at the curb for the weekly pickup, though my piles aren’t particularly large. Certainly not big enough to support my falling body. Some of my neighbors have leafier trees and collect larger amounts, but it would still be dangerous, at least for a man of my age. Other neighbors put all of their trimmings in green plastic containers, so colored to separate them from the trash and the recycling cans.

In this environmentally friendly age when you can always find someone trying to reuse what would formerly be called trash (old tires into playground surfaces, wire hangers into child motivators—thank you Joan Crawford), everything has to get separated so it gets to the right place. I didn’t want to use the third container even though it was free, because I already had the other two stinking up the side of the house.

The black one is for trash, and trash smells no matter what I do. The gray one is for recycling paper, plastic, and glass, and it could smell better if the various bottles and cans were rinsed thoroughly, but I’m too lazy to do that. When I was offered the green one by the garbage company, all I could imagine was the slow breakdown of biodegradable material that would stink to high heaven as it baked in the sun for a week. No thanks. I’ll just throw it at the curb and try not to jump in it.

There’s one truck the city folk use for the lawn waste in the bins. It hoists them up with a mechanical arm and dumps them in seconds. Later, a mobile tractor comes scooting along with its large horizontal pinchers and picks up the stuff in the street to drop it into the back of a different truck. Three vehicles for the compostable stuff, which seems like overkill, but hey, we’re saving the rainforests and not burying disposable diapers under biodegradable mass. Al Gore would be proud.

I only have to make two trips to the curb each Tuesday afternoon, to retrieve my newly emptied garbage and recycling containers. My green-binned neighbors must make three, and I laugh silently at their misery because I believe I have found a better way. At least, that is, until I stand at the empty curb and see just what has happened. While my neighbors are putting away their third bin, I see what the jaws have dropped from between their pinchers in front of my house.

Leaves, small branches, spiky balls from the cursed Liquidambar trees, and other escapees from different yards up and down the street. Sure, the machine is ninety-nine percent effective, but that one percent is a doozy. I can’t even tell what it all is, but I know for sure it isn’t all mine. Bits and pieces from the yards of people I don’t even know.

I think in earlier years I didn’t worry about it much. I didn’t even really notice it, as I drove in and out of the garage twice a day. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the yard. Any abandoned detritus would get scraped up by the tractor the next week, or dragged along the street underneath whichever neighbor’s car was parked in front of my house because they have too many vehicles, or washed down the gutter in the next rain. Something would always take care of it.

Now I have more free time on my hands, and on occasion I stand in the front yard. I see what is strewn from side fence to side fence, and I grab my broom and dustpan to finish the job. I have become the crazy old man who sweeps the street after the trash has been hauled away. Every neighborhood has at least one such oddity.

Of course, I wouldn’t have to do it if I used the third green bin, because everything would be contained and the tractor wouldn’t have to stop in front of my house. Or if I ignored local laws and burned my yard waste like in the good old days.

The good old days when kids could safely jump into a pile of leaves.

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