Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Leaves and People Win in Princeton Parks

You could say this is just a photo of a local park with a lawn and a couple trees, but that would be missing the big picture. What we have here is a win-win-win-win. Now, I've always wondered why win-wins, not to mention win-win-win-wins, don't get people more excited. Anyone interested in making the world a better place knows that, given what a fix the world is in, and how busy people tend to be, if we just get one win at a time there's no way we'll ever reach our goal in time to kick back and enjoy a nice cool drink on the veranda. With all the forces conspiring to make the world a worse place, we need wins in big batches--twos, threes, as many as we can get.

So, please, show a little excitement when I point out all the wins in this photo. They all have to do with those magical things called leaves. For twelve years, I've watched those white oaks grow, each year extending their branches to offer more shade for the picnic tables beneath them. As if calibrated to the shade, birthday parties seem to grow in size and frequency each year, centered under the trees and radiating out across the park. Clustered there next to the sandbox, they are the right trees in the right place, and whoever planted them should be given an award for creating an oasis of beauty and comfort where people can come together.

But what to do with those leaves when they fall, albeit very slowly through the winter, being oaks. That's where the other wins reside, for there was a time when the town would swoop in with a big crew and a big truck, then spend most of the day blowing the leaves into a pile, muscling them into the truck, and hauling them out of town to the compost center. Nice compost, you might think, but at what expense? There's the man-hours spent, the truck to buy and maintain, the extra time to drive out of town, the export of nutrients from the park, and all the while, greenhouse gases being scattered to the winds to further trouble the earth.

A few years ago, seeing all these negative impacts on budget, park and planet, I asked the parks director if the town (okay, "municipality") could return to the old borough approach of simply mowing the leaves back into the lawn. That way, the parks department would be modeling what its environmental commission has been recommending all along, that people utilize their leaves rather than blow them to the curb.

What a joy, then, to see that this year the parks department has adopted this approach in Potts Park and elsewhere. In this photo, you can see the mulch-mowed leaves nestled between the grass blades, where they will decompose, feed the lawn, reduce runoff, and maybe even make the ground a little softer when kids fall. There's a brown tint to the lawn, but that will quickly transition back to green.

This far into the blogpost, I've lost count on how many wins this simple change in lawncare has achieved, and the tally wouldn't even include all those lower priority tasks the parks crews will now have time to do. So, grab a mower or fashion a leaf corral, and see how many wins you can gather in your own yard, and later, while sitting on the veranda, make a toast to a better world.

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