To blow or not to blow?

By Ben Bull, Columnist

I sit on my deck listening to the soothing sounds of spring: the wind in the trees, the birds chirping, the neighbourhood kids skipping up and down the laneway. In the distance is the familiar whiz of a chainsaw. Fifty yards up the road is the wretched whine of a weed whacker.

The angry grind is quickly displaced however, by yet another urban nuisance: a leaf blower. It’s enough to make your head hurt.

I used to abandon the city every weekend in search of peace. For a few years we had a trailer just north of Port Severn. I tied a hammock to two trees by the lake, and spent many an afternoon swinging on it, listening to the plip-plop of pike as they plucked unsuspecting insects off the surface.

Not all nature sounds were quite so soothing. Honking geese would rouse me from my slumber. And a randy toad was my cue to tumble off my cot and trudge up the steps for tea.

Nature is noisy by necessity. Animals have to eat. Insects have to mate. But we humans have no excuse.

Before we sold our trailer, my neighbour across the lake was busy ramping up yet another building project. ‘Lenny’ had a large cottage and a lot of land. He also had a hard time sitting still. I would watch him as he reeled in his fishing line at nine o’clock in the morning, and then wait one or two hours until he got his engines roaring. Fifty yards is not a lot of separation when a centrifugal impeller is pointing at your face.

Lenny had two power boats, a power washer, a chainsaw, a weed whacker, a leaf blower, a lawn mower and a tractor. And an unseen device that made an ominous clanking noise. When he revved it up, the upper branches of his trees would shiver, as if a movie monster was threatening to burst through the foliage and eat me alive.

Some weekends Lenny ignited them all, one by one, lighting the match at the precise moment I’d ensconced myself into my hammock cocoon. I would try to hum the din away by closing my eyes and imagining I was swinging by a lake. But I’d find myself dangling from a construction site crane instead or curled up on the median of the 401.

Some days I’d see Lenny down by the shore, sweeping his leaf blower gently from side to side. He never looked up or waved – his headphones were impervious to my energetic appeals.

The noise finally drowned us out. Why drive two hours up the highway every weekend to listen to Lenny, when the sounds of urban nature are right outside my door?

There are no loons on my street, and I have yet to see a humming bird buzzing on my porch. But there is a lot of noise.

The leaf blower is an obnoxious invention. Why can’t we rake our leaves? A garden is work – that’s the joy of it. Unless you hate gardening, in which case don’t have one. Weed whackers are insane. Their high-pitched shrill is the mechanical equivalent of a primal scream. It’s as if we’re so angry with our weeds we want to shriek at them while they die.

Back-up beepers on vehicles are my nemesis. In a city that’s never finished, construction is ever present and back-up beepers are essential for safety. But, hey – look! I’m over here! I can still hear you!

Councillor Josh Matlow advocates a ban on leaf blowers. The city’s Community Development Committee is due to make a recommendation to Toronto City Council on June 15. What should we do?

To blow or not to blow, that is the question.