Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Annual Purging of Leaves

One of this blog's "pages" (listed in the right column as Leaves) contains my annual letter to the editor calling for clean streets and backyard composting, and each year the dumping of leaves, dirt, grassclippings, branches and garden trimmings on the pavement becomes more emphatic and non-stop. The power of the pen is overrated.
What does a tidy yard gain the homeowner if the street in front of it is clogged with debris? It's as if we've disowned the public space. Dumping on the streets has become a year-round, essentially unregulated activity.

True, the leaves, etc. eventually end up getting composted outside of town, but collecting leaves is a highly mechanized, gas-gulping process that makes municipal workers unavailable for other tasks.
And leaves the streets strewn with organic debris that then adds a nutrient load to local waterways.
Streets function essentially as ephemeral creeks, connected directly to local streams, so that the dumping of organic matter in the streets is akin to dumping directly into a waterway--an urge society was supposed to have cured itself of decades ago.

There was a time when leaves were appreciated, not only for their rich fertilizer value but for their beauty and the joy a pile of dry, crisp leaves can bring to kids.

Many homeowners have abundant space in back, yet make a point of raking all leaves to the street. Seeking to comprehend, I came up with two new possible reasons this year: 1) the frenetic pace of life has caused people to reject the relatively slow pace of decomposition, and 2) since homeowners often take their cues from neighbors, the highly visible practice of dumping leaves on the streets is more readily imitated than the comparatively hidden practice of piling leaves in a corner of the backyard.

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