Rappahannock County has just been experiencing, according to some measures, peak fall foliage. It is perhaps the most beautiful time of the year here, many would agree. It also can be among the ugliest times of year when measured by noise pollution. And the cause of both the beauty and the noise is ironically the same: leaves!
Yes, of the two-stroke, gasoline-powered leaf blower, I yell. Its noise levels are such that hearing loss to both the operator and those nearby can occur.
As with a lot of the nation’s current ills that can putatively be traced back to the 1960s, so, too, can the leaf blower. That’s when it first appeared in the American marketplace. I’ve never heard anyone argue that the world is a better place because of this invention.
Growing up during the 1960s in neighboring Fauquier County, my teenage cohort considered raking leaves a necessary rite of passage. It could even be fun, as we would wrestle around in the huge, cushiony piles we’d made. I wonder (in my grumpy-old-man mode) if today’s young people (unless they’re gardeners) even know what a rake is. Reacquaintance with the rake — and the elbow grease required to wield it — might help, among other things, America’s current obesity epidemic.
The noise emitted from leaf blowers is so noxious that they’ve actually been banned in many jurisdictions around the United States. California’s Carmel-by-the-Sea — to which Rappahannock’s county seat has sometimes been likened — was perhaps the first locality to legislate such a ban, in 1975.
More insidious are the air pollutants. The fuel for a two-stroke engine has to be mixed with oil, so as much as 30 percent of the gasoline fails to undergo complete combustion. As a result, carbon monoxide, acid-rain-causing nitrous oxides and carcinogenic hydrocarbons escape from the engine in large quantities.
This is a similar problem for many lawn mowers and chainsaws, which Rappahannock has in abundance; but the task they perform can’t be tackled with a simple, old-fashioned rake.