The Sounds of Summer in Suburbia

Should suburban folk always use power yard equipment just because it’s available to them? Or because it’s the thing to do in suburbia? Should you measure the costs when using such equipment?

In the 60’s and 70’s, I grew up in a working class neighborhood in Wisconsin and when it came time to yard and house maintenance, the majority of the work was done manually by homeowners, and sometimes with assistance from friends and neighbors.

When it came to mowing our lawns, it appeared that every third neighbor used brute force and bypassed the gas and electricity route. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem like a big deal so around age 14, one of my chores was keeping our lawn neat and trim with our manual lawn mower. I learned a lesson that I did such a good job, my Dad also assigned me the task of mowing our elderly neighbor’s lawn during the same clipping cycle. My payout was a few candy bars and a quarter or two and knowing I helped out someone in need. Thankfully, I was young and in good shape and at the time, never refused chocolate.

During the same period, it was uncommon to have leaf blowers, power edgers or trimmers. In lieu of uncommon leaf blowers, most of the folk on the block owned a few rakes – in the spring to rid the lawn of dead grass and in the fall to capture leaves before the snow and ice made a permanent appearance. If you wanted to trim along your sidewalk or around trees, you used a manual edger or clippers – exercising your upper body, arms, wrists and legs. Years ago, the pace was much less and people had more time on their hands and with labor omnipresent, manual chores typically were done without issue. 

Chain saws were available 30 or 40 years ago – if you had the physical ability to trim the tree, one might say that’s why God made hand saws and sharp blades. Obviously, if you lived on 3 acres with dozens of trees, that might be a different story, however, years ago, that was the exception rather than the rule.

Years ago, my neighbors were not necessarily fitness fanatics and didn’t necessarily think of manual yard work as exercise – perhaps it was either frugality or the thing to do on your block. If you wanted to rid your lawn of dead grass, leaves, stems and other materials, you purchased a de-thatcher and cleaned your lawn in rows or sections manually. As a young bloke, I only went to a hardware store a few times to rent a de-thatcher or aerator and for the other times, it was elbow grease that helped get the job done.

Once autumn was finished and old man winter made its rude appearance for what it sometimes felt like half the year, I traded in my manual lawn mower for a shovel. It wasn’t always easy to shovel, especially after a blizzard, but living with 7 siblings in a small house, I appreciated the respite. Perhaps this early exposure to shoveling helped make me old school today as I still shovel by hand. With an average of 40 inches per winter in my current milieu, I’m still able to handle things.

a balancing act

A Balancing Act ???

I wonder if power tools in today’s world contribute in any way to our obesity problem? Especially among men. If snow falls on your driveway, you swiftly move it away with a snow thrower or blower. If yard trimming is needed, you use your gas or electric powered trimmer to do the job. For those who edge their driveway and sidewalk, it’s gas, power and noise all the way.

Besides the lack of activity involved with power tools, what about the amount of noise created in the ‘burbs where it seems in the spring and fall, at least one neighbor is conveying to other men that machismo effect – they have the power equipment and they’re not afraid to use it. Same thing could be applied to the winter. I don’t know how many times I’m out shoveling my driveway enjoying the cold but peaceful winter air when a neighbor fires up their snow thrower – convenient for them but again, an irritant to me and perhaps others.

One other thing to consider when regularly using all these power tools, in addition to the dust that’s created during growing season, some of these small engines emit carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and exhaust gas. Again, think before you use it and use with care. 

Regardless of what the neighbors use, or the ability to afford these tools, would it be a good idea to examine the costs involved in this approach, especially in suburbia? Are these power tools used too often? Do people automatically use them because they are available so no other alternative is ever considered? Could not manual tools be substituted sometimes to break the power cycle to add some activity to one’s life and at the same time, reduce some noise and air pollution?

Would not a trend in that direction help to bring a little more balance and peacefulness to the ‘burbs? One could only be so hopeful.