January 2012

Send in the clouds

By David Feela

Yesterday while I was walking past our local funeral home, a young man — presumably an employee -- tottered along the curb with one of those portable blower devices, raising a cloud of dust, sweeping down the street in a southernly direction. Unfortunately, the wind was also coming from the south, so he reminded me of that character from the Peanuts comic strip named Pig-Pen.

I shouldn’t have laughed. It would have been kinder to catch up with him and, if possible, point him toward a different career.

You see, I can appreciate a windy day, especially in the late fall, when the brown leaves on the ground rattle and scrape against each other. There’s always the faint possibility they’ll get picked up by a dust devil, mulched, and redeposited on my garden where the soil always needs an amendment. What really rattles my teeth is not a cold wind from the north, but that entirely artificial wind and whine of a handheld leaf-blower.

Remember those fall days of yore when raking the yard depleted only a few sweat glands and raised a couple blisters on your hands? If I’m too nostalgic I’m sorry, but wasn’t it all worth it, walking down the sidewalk kicking dry leaves like stacks of potato chips, or tossing an armful into the air and pretending it’s confetti?

It’s possible rakes and brooms will become antiques, replaced by “blowers that are among the most powerful in the industry, designed to save you time and energy.”

A generation or two from now, children will see the traditional rake and broom leaning against a museum wall and ask, What are those for? And they’ll play with them as if they were toys, riding them like stick ponies, not understanding the years of wholesome chores such basic tools represented to their grandparents.

But I’m not inflexible. I’d join the blower revolution if it sucked. I mean, where do the blower people think the debris they set into motion gets deposited? It doesn’t just disappear into the atmosphere like steam rising from a coffee cup. Shopkeepers and neighbors who use these appliances to tidy up the property ought to lean a bit further into the future. Everything four feet in front of them looks so clean when they’re finished, but the world beyond their field of vision is appreciably dirtier.

I know, the blower is only the tip of the dustbin, because our particulates fill the atmosphere wherever we settle down. A haze of woodsmoke hovers over our winter towns. We start our engines to defrost our windshields and idly speculate about the rumor of global warming, as if it were a media war being waged by a foreign power.

Carl Sandburg’s poem might be amended for the desert Southwest to read, The yellow fog that comes from the power plant on little cat feet, sits looking over the Four Corners on silent haunches and then moves on. But you’d learn to hate this kind of poetry if you live downwind.

He also wrote, “When a nation goes down or a society perishes, one condition may always be found -- they forgot where they came from.”

Perhaps we did come from dust, but with 7 billion of us on the planet, a person has to wonder if, as a species, we are blowing it.

It’s no surprise that the owner’s manual for every blower recommends wearing a face mask and protection against hearing loss. These instructions ought to be mandated for the rest of us who don’t own one, because blowers present real-life irritations and hazards for all of us. It’s just too easy to ignore those unfortunates who end up covering their ears and faces, suddenly scattering like leaves.

I don’t know who patented the portable blower, but it reminds me of one of those splendidly useless kitchen gadgets that makes too much noise, takes up an inordinate amount of space, and glorifies a pedestrian task. I realize a leaf-blower does not mean the end of the world, but it does tend to raise the issue about “the dust unto which we shall return” a bit prematurely.

David Feela writes from Montezuma County, Colo.