I was driving today through a neighborhood here in town and, being it’s a weekend, there were quite a few folks out grooming their lawns, because that’s a thing that some people actually do. (I’ll save for another time my screed about the absurd worthlessness of lawns in general and how the whole idea of having an expanse of grass in the front and the back of your house is a sucker’s game, plain and simple.) Today it occurred to me, possibly not for the first time, that leaf blowers are a perfect metaphor for a fatal flaw in what passes for civilization here in the 21st century and a window into the reality of continuing environmental decline.
Not to sound even older than I am, but when I was a lad and the trees dropped their leaves onto the lawn, the patio, the sidewalk and the driveway, my father would hand me the rake and send me off to do battle. I can recall hours of raking the leaves into piles, scooping up the crinkling remnants of what was once the greenery of summer and arm-shoveling them into the garbage can. It was the same after mowing the lawn, which as an only child, was another task that fell to me during those salad days.
Nobody had a leaf blower back then. I bet I would have loved it but it wasn’t an option. It would have been awesome, instead of wrestling with the rake, to simply fire up a noisy backpack and blow all of the leaves and lawn clippings out into the street or into the neighbors yard. Make all that dead garden stuff somebody else’s problem, right? Task complete. Of course, that’s how a 12 year-old would think.
In this country (and on the planet, for that matter), the ethos of the leaf blower seems to be ascendant. Even though there is no such place as “away,” we still pretend that there is. Even as our neighbors blow all of their unwanted dreck in our direction, we don’t understand the irony of doing the same thing back at them. As we generate more and more waste, as we continue to ignore the inevitable consequences of a society that is based on consumption and perpetual economic growth, we resort to shipping our refuse to other countries or just dumping it somewhere handy, removing it from our immediate vicinity and pretending that we’ve solved the problem.
Maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor, after all, but it’s pretty close. Are we headed for a future where we relearn the value of the rake (as it applies to the environment), or do we continue building larger and more powerful leaf blowers? Out of sight and out of mind is no way to deal with real issues but we seem to be dead-on determined to keep it up.