Dust thou ain’t
Yesterday while I was walking past our local funeral home, a young man — presumably an employee — tottered along the curb with one of those portable blower devices, raising a cloud of dust, sweeping down the street in a southerly direction.  Unfortunately, the wind was also coming from the south, so he reminded me of that character from the Peanuts comic strip named Pig-Pen.  I shouldn’t have laughed. It would have been kinder to catch up with him and, if possible, point him toward a different career.
You see, I can appreciate a windy day, especially in the fall, when the brown leaves on the ground rattle and scrape against each other. There’s always the faint possibility they’ll get whisked into a tight pile against the house’s foundation, or better yet, get picked up by a dust devil, mulched and redeposited on my garden where the soil always needs an amendment of compost. What rattles my teeth is not a cold wind out of the north, but that entirely artificial wind and whine of a handheld gas or electric leaf blower.
Don’t you remember those fall days of yore when raking the yard depleted only a few sweat glands and raised a couple blisters on your hands?  I may be sounding too nostalgic, but it was all worth it, wasn’t it? To walk down the sidewalk kicking dry leaves like stacks of potato chips. To toss an armful into the air and pretend it’s confetti. How can anyone forget the mountains of newly dead and departed leaves we raked together that would eventually be trampled into a fine dust by the time all the neighborhood’s children were finished diving into them.
It’s possible that soon the rake and the broom will become antiques, eventually replaced by “blowers that are among the most powerful in the industry, designed to save you time and energy.” I’ve seen the traditional rake and broom still hanging on the walls of hardware and department stores, but I’m sure a generation or two from now the children will ask, “What are those for?” And they’ll play with them as if they were toys, riding them like stick ponies, not understanding the years of wholesome chores such basic tools represented to their grandparents.
But I’m not inflexible. I’d join the blower revolution if it sucked. I mean, where do the blower people think the debris they set into motion gets deposited? It doesn’t just disappear into the atmosphere like steam rising from a cup of coffee. Shopkeepers and neighbors who use these appliances to tidy up the sidewalk or the driveway ought to look a bit further into the future. Everything 4 feet in front of them looks so clean when they’re finished, but the world beyond their field of vision is appreciably dirtier.
I know, the blower is only the tip of the dustbin, because our particulates fill the atmosphere where ever we settle down. A haze of woodsmoke hovers over our winter towns. We start our engines to defrost our windshields and idly speculate about the rumor of global warming, as if it were a media war being waged by a foreign power. Even the yellow fog that comes from the power plant on little cat feet, sits looking over the Four Corners on silent haunches and then moves on, sounds as quaint as the Illinois poet who also wrote, “When a nation goes down or a society perishes, one condition may always be found — they forgot where they came from.” Perhaps we did come from dust, but with 7 billion of us on the planet, a person has to wonder if, as a species, we are blowing it.
Recently the news reported that according to a 10-year U.S. Geological Society study, the sand dunes of the Navajo Reservation — as many as 9,000 acres of sand — have begun an unusual migration, some of the dunes moving up to 115 feet per year, all in a northeastern direction, presumably because of long term drought, sparse vegetation and unusually dry winds. I wouldn’t be surprised if the study concluded that the winds are predominantly gas powered.
And it’s also no surprise that the owner’s manual for every blower sold recommends wearing a face mask and full-time protection against hearing loss. These instructions ought to be listed in bold print, italicized and underlined, because blowers present real life hazards for their users. I also wouldn’t mind a small note from the manufacturer that mentions how to avoid irritating the rest of us, those unfortunates covering our ears and faces, suddenly scattering like leaves.
I don’t know who patented the design for a portable blower, but it reminds me of one of those splendidly useless kitchen gadgets that makes too much noise, takes up an inordinate amount of space in a drawer or on the counter, and only glorifies a pedestrian task. I realize a leaf blower does not mean the end of the world, but it does tend to raise the issue about “the dust unto which we shall return” a little prematurely.
– David Feela

(Editor’s note: David Feela will read from his latest collection of very entertaining essays How Delicate These Arches: Footnotes from the Four Corners next Tuesday, Dec. 6, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Maria’s Bookshop. Be sure to stop by and say hello, but please refrain from leaf blowing or operating any other gas-powered machinery during the reading.)