Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Consider the Broom...

This simple tool costs little and does a lot.  No gasoline required!

We are sitting out on the veranda having cocktails the other evening, and the sound of the the most common bird on Jekyll Island  is heard.   Not a sweet chirp-chirp, but an annoying, "Waahhhhhh!  Ungha, Ungha, Waahhhhhhh!"

Yes, it was our old friend, the leaf blower.   You can hear them pretty much all day long, as quasi-legal immigrants blow away more topsoil and old men mercilessly chase one solitary leaf down their driveway.

In this case, a neighbor, blowing the live oak leaves and pollen sacs, as well as the Georgia Pine needles, down his driveway, into a pile, to be picked up by a truck the next day.   For about an hour he goes up and down the driveway, "Waahhhhhh! Ungha, Ungha!"

What is the point of that?

The nice thing was, I had parked my cars outside, so I could work on my friend's car in the garage, and his leaf blower threw up a cloud of dust on my cars.   Just washed them.   Thanks!

By the way, I recall hearing a story on the radio once, about attempts to ban leaf blowers in some California communities.   The salient point is that the annoyance factor of the leaf blower has more to do with the revving of the engine (the "Ungha Ungha!" not the Waahhhhhh!").   Apparently, variable frequency sounds are more annoying than constant speed sounds.   Hence the whirr of a jet overhead, while annoying, is not nearly as bad as some dumb-ass with a tiny dick, revving his straight-pipe Harley.

But it got me to thinking, well, two things.   First, what is the freaking point of these leaf blowers?  They seem to take more energy to use (and more time) than raking or sweeping.   Second, do I need to sweep my driveway?

I went out to look at the driveway.   There were some small mounds of pine needles and live oak leaves and pollen sacs.   Frankly, they didn't bother me that much.   But I thought, what the heck, get them off the driveway.

So I got out my trusty corn broom and swept down the driveway.   It took all of 20 minutes and was a good workout - you can feel it in your biceps.  People pay money to do this, in a gym.  And frankly, it was less work than was involved trying to pull-start a leaf blower.

And rather than sweep this crap into a pile to be hauled away, I just flung it on the lawn, where it mulches very nicely, thank you.

Which, by the way, raises another point.   Lawn care companies (e.g., three Mexicans and a fenderless trailer with a bad wheel bearing) take lawn clippings, leaves, and other "yard debris" and either haul it away or pile it up for your municipality to remove.   Apparently the law of conservation of mass does not apply to yard debris.   Every week, you remove, say, 100 kilos of mass from your yard this way.   Where does this mass come from?   Even taking away the water content, you are basically depleting your yard of what makes up topsoil.   Of course, ChemLawn is there to the rescue, dumping high-nitrogen fertilizers in the sand, which the grass may absorb some of, before the rest runs off into local streams or soaks into the aquifer.

Rather than do this, just set your mower to "mulch" - not only is it better for your lawn and topsoil, it cuts mowing time in half, as you are not dicking around with emptying mowing bags.   Seriously, my lawn has never looked better since I started doing this.  Sometimes less (effort) is more.

But getting back to leaf blowers, I kept thinking to myself, "Gee, it took me 20 minutes to do this with 15th Century technology, yet my neighbor spent an hour blowing his driveway with a $250 leaf blower using at least $1.50 of gas!  What gives?"

Well, what gives is leaf blowers suck.   Well, they blow, actually.   And that right there is the problem.   Since they just turn whatever it is your are blowing into a cloud of dust, you can't really control what is going on.   So you try to blow leaves away from your garage door, and they just go up in the air, curl around and land behind you.   You think you are making progress, but then you turn around and see more leaves behind you.

So you go back again and again, trying to force these damn leaves to do your bidding, via an uncontrolled jet of air.   It is like trying to shovel water.

A broom, on the other hand, by physically pushing the stuff, puts it where you want it, in one stroke.  Yes, it is more effort (and God knows, we in America are overworked and need less exercise!) but it is faster and more precise.

And speaking of exercise - how good is it for your back to just carry one of these leaf blowers around, swinging it from side-to-side?   Sweeping may seem like "more effort" but in fact, it is probably better for you as it builds muscle tone.   Carrying things, on the other hand, particularly when you are out of shape, is a recipe for a sore back, later on.

Another neighbor once gave me a leaf blower, for the ostensible purpose of blowing leaves off the roof (we are told that pine needles will destroy your roof in short order!).   After spending $65 putting a new carburetor on it, I was able to get it to work, only to realize that it would need a new gas tank.  At that point, I sort of gave up.   Yank-starting reluctant two-stroke engines sucks, really.

So, when the pine needles accumulated on the roof, I went up and swept them off with Mr. Corn Broom.  "That isn't good for the roof!" my friend says, "It will abrade away all those little dot thingies on the shingles!"

But the dot thingies seem to come off in the rain, anyway, and I am not sure that sweeping is any worse than a 100 mph wind from a leaf blower.   And maybe just not obsessing so much about pine needles is a better approach.

So the broom is my new friend.  He clears walkways, driveways, roofs, and provides a good cardiovascular workout, all without any gasoline, driving to a gym, or hiring a personal trainer.

And for leaves?   Well, consider the rake....

The old-school rake will move mountains of leaves without raising clouds of dust and annoying all your neighbors with noise.   It uses no gas, and best of all, it is cheap.