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cmyk for printIllustration by Drew Shannon

At this point in my life, I don’t relish the daunting task of raking up the mounds of leaves that pile up on my front and back yards. So, before the season began, I drove to Canada’s favourite hardware store and bought a leaf blower.

The word “blower” is a bit of a misnomer; most leaf blowers perform the dual function of vacuuming and blowing. The vacuum feature swallows the leaves into a collection bag. That’s the kind I settled on. My wife was displeased. She said the amount spent would easily cover a two-night all-in stay at Niagara Falls. Then she really put the boot in by pointing out that if I can play golf two or three times a week, I can surely rake leaves.

“They’re two very different activities,” I explained, “one solitary, the other social.”

I have a keen distaste for doing things by myself. “Besides,” I said to my wife, “spending time raking and bagging leaves eats into my golf practice time.”

She rolled her eyes.

When I opened the box, I felt like a kid at Christmas. The instructions were complicated, but I persevered and after two hours, I had the vacuum feature ready. At least I thought I had. I headed to the backyard, where I stood ankle-deep in leaves, not all of which had fallen from our Japanese maple, crimson hawthorn and silk lilac. There’s a large mulberry hanging over our fence on one side and a bigger silver birch tree on the other. And our back and front yards are magnets for the leaves that drop from several of the more than 100-year-old majestic oaks and maples that line our street.

As per the instructions, I donned earmuffs and with an enormous sense of anticipation, I pushed the switch and the motor roared into life. I pointed the spout at the ground and began vacuuming around my feet. But something wasn’t right. The leaves being swallowed into the machine were flying out the other end. I’d failed to attach the bag correctly. Back to the drawing board. Wearing her familiar wry smile, my wife had been observing all this from the kitchen window.

After I reattached the bag, I felt hungry. No point in tackling such a major task on an empty stomach. As I ate the leftover pizza from the previous evening’s dinner, my wife, who has a penchant for pointing out the obvious, said that I’d have raked our leaves and the leaves on the property of several neighbours in the time spent going to the store, choosing the blower, driving home and so on.

Chuckling, she asked if I’d forgotten the size of our lot which includes our semi-detached house. It’s 22 feet by 96 feet. The front yard, most of which is covered in perennials, is no more than 15 feet from the porch to the sidewalk.

I abandoned the second slice of pizza, went to the backyard, picked up the machine and switched it on. As it began swallowing up the leaves, my demeanour began to change. Looking around the yard, I was struck by its postage stamp size and there I was holding a big noisy machine doing what anyone could do in 30 minutes. I felt ridiculous. I switched it off and tumbled the contents of the collection bag into a pile. Then as quickly as possible, I cleaned the parts, put them back in the box and headed back to the store. After standing in line for 15 minutes, I placed the box on the returns counter.

“Something wrong with it?” the young girl asked.

“No, it’s fine. It’s just too big for my purpose.”

“We carry smaller ones,” she said earnestly.

“That’s okay,” I said.

She took a peek in the box and then refunded the money back onto my credit card.

On the way home, I remembered an exchange I’d had with an acquaintance on the topic of leaf blowers. He was in his cups at the time, so I took some of what he said with a grain of salt. But he also spoke some truths. He labelled them among the worst noise polluters ever invented as well as being wicked for the environment. They should be banned outright in the city of Toronto he declared.

However, without a trace of irony, this avid golfer added that leaf blowers are absolutely essential for golf course maintenance crews to keep the fairways and greens clear.

Noise polluters? Yes. Definitely. I don’t exaggerate when I tell you that my wife is one of the calmest people this side of the Rockies, but yesterday, I had to strongly discourage her from marching up the street to tell he, whom we call Mr. Obsessive, where he should shove his leaf blower. It’s as loud as a hot rod without a muffler. The dinner hour is his favourite time to start it up and suck up every leaf on his lot, from the roof of his porch to the sidewalk and street for several metres on either side of his house.

Now, to assuage my aversion to the solitary exercise of raking and bagging, I called for grandchild reinforcements. It involved a bribe of mac and cheese followed by mint chocolate ice cream. Even with the bribe, our five-year-old granddaughter wasn’t overly excited about the task. But when I reached into my memory for almost forgotten French vocabulary for trees, leaves, rake, broom, scoop and bag, she changed her tune. She’s in SK French Immersion. We got busy, and as I supplied the French word, we both chuckled at her attempts to wrap her tongue around the new vocabulary. How quickly time passes when having fun: in 30 minutes the backyard was wearing its pre-fall face. She said she’d consider doing it again if I add sprinkles to the crème glacée. I told her she had a deal.

Declan Neary lives in Toronto.

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