by Stan Cutler

We hear a lot of leaf blowers on the west side of town, “the garden district,” where the lots are generally bigger. I read that the municipal government of Washington, D.C. recently banned leaf blowers throughout the city. What a great idea. Let’s ban their use in Chestnut Hill.

Our house is a twin with a narrow backyard and a small rectangle of earth out front. Maintaining the borders and beds requires constant attention. We end a few patches of short green stuff that I cut with a reel mower. I don’t use a weed whacker on the edges because a flat-end shovel does a better job almost as quickly without the ugly sound. I understand the financial reasons why the neighbors employ landscaping services. They have huge lots and insufficient time, skill or interest to personally maintain them. I understand, but I challenge their right to assault me with their machines. Here are a few facts about leaf blowers.

The metric used is decibels (dB). A maximum, non-intrusive level of ambient noise is 45 dB, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, World Health Organization and other expert health organizations. No backpack leaf blower is rated at less than 70 dB, which is 2,500 times louder than 45 dB (the decibel scale is logarithmic). Sometimes, I take a break from my desk to enjoy the backyard, to watch the finches mob the bird feeder, admire the flowers, listen to the breeze in the maple tree and hear the faint notes of the wind chimes. Often, I am driven inside because a day worker is earning a living at the expense of my peace and quiet. He should use a rake. His employer has no right to pollute my garden.

I grew up in a row house two blocks from the nearest tree. Traffic noise was constant. For me, the branch library was the quietest place I knew. That’s one of the reasons I care so much about bringing the libraries into the 21st century. They’re a shelter from the noise and a place where people can concentrate on reading, like the little bronze frogs on the edge of my shovel-dug pond.

The worst time of year is the autumn, when the sound seems constant. But the day workers, instructed by their bosses, must clean up the properties on weekly schedules from spring through summer. When they mow, they blow. Yes, the mowers are also noisy. Both the blowers and the mowers are powered by two-stroke motors that spew noxious gas. If my neighbor chooses to confine a 75 dB sound inside his basement and fill it with poisonous gas, I have no objection. But not outside.

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Stan Cutler is a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.