Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The New Leaf Blower

On my way back home I come over the rise in the hill, looking out for deer spooked by early season bow hunters. The apple orchard maintained faithfully by my neighbor, trees laden with ripe red fruit, signals I’m almost home. He’s usually got one project or another going down, a patch of new siding on the old farmhouse, some mowing in front of the garage. I always look over.

Last week he had an excavator, a big yellow, heavy machine, parked in the ditch between the stone wall and the road. The hill in front of the wall was muddy, laid bare, and there were piles of stone set back from breaks. This was something new, evidence of a big project. It was also kind of odd. What could he be doing, I wondered? A new driveway? Stone walls, I always thought, were sort of sacrosanct, an iconic part of the landscape you didn’t mess with unless absolutely necessary. We’ve been living in this part of New England for several years and I thought I’d seen it all.

That evening, talking with my wife, the mystery resolved. There’d been a man in the excavator pulling stones away from the wall, clearing the grass and weeds with the blade down to the dirt, and then replacing the stones. It’s a rough laid stone wall, typical of farm fields and boundary walls around here, a jumble of field stone of all sizes laid down when the land was first cleared by colonists sometime in the early 18th century. But still, I was incredulous at the amount of work involved in what was essentially a beautification project.

A few days later, in a conversation at the annual cider pressing party, my neighbor told me the price per foot he’d been quoted by one local contractor for the work clearing the stone wall. Let’s just say it was Gatsbyesque. My shock at discovering this sort of work is considered normal maintenance by some of the local gentry was compounded by sudden fiscal lockjaw.

In the interest of transparency let me offer a disclosure. I don’t even own a leaf-blower. I’m someone who knew American’s love affair with technological fixes started going off the deep end when I first saw an ad for the electric, in-the-shell egg scrambler on late night television in 1979. To give you a better idea, I’d rather split wood with a sledge and a maul than use a hydraulic splitter and in exchange save myself some money in health club memberships. That’s why I live out in the country. I love freedom of choice and I respect it when I see it. But my question is, does the super-sizing of our gadgets and lifestyle ever max out?

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That stone wall was violated, I’m convinced, by my friend’s need to keep it clear of a few over-wintering brambles and ferns.
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