Are We Just LAZY?

The cacophony started a little after 8 o’clock this morning. A lone weed whacker, or hedge trimmer, or some other power tool, got me out of bed to do my gardening chores a little earlier than I had planned.

On my way to the community garden plot a few blocks from my house, the chorus grew louder, with basses and tenors singing different grinding tunes. The soprano bird songs came through only at times.

Having watered my little vegetable plot, I headed home to deal with the garden there. On the way, I saw one neighbor mowing his lawn (which I think he mowed just the other day) and heard several weed whackers singing their tunes in other yards that were just out of sight. As I approached the road to my house, I heard the dual sounds of a weed whacker and the ultimate in power tools for the lazy, the leaf blower. Yes, a couple of guys from the city were completing the job that the Blue Monster (what I call the giant lawn mower that shaves the roadsides in Astoria a few times each summer) started yesterday. Talk about overkill. This oversized killing machine mows down everything in its path, but can’t really cut the grass, especially on hillsides. So it is trailed by mere mortals wielding those much better-sized power tools to finish the job.

As I watched these guys tidy up the steep roadside leading to my house, I wondered why they, or the Blue Monster, for that matter, were there in the first place. At the very least, the leaf blower, the most polluting (including noise) of any power tool on earth, could have been replaced with a broom. The capital cost savings alone would make the couple minutes extra time to sweep the grass cuttings well worth it. The city worker wouldn’t have to wear headphones, wouldn’t be subjected to nasty pollution, and wouldn’t have to carry the heavy blower on his back. I can see a savings in health care costs for the worker and the city.

A friend recently sent me a video of a contest between a lawn mower and a scythe-wielding guy, who beat the mechanized grass cutter by a hair (or is that a blade?) in cutting down a rectangular patch of grass of equal size to his competitor. I’ve seen my friend scythe his field in near silence with spectacular results. Yes, it’s hard work, but it keeps him in shape, gets great results, doesn’t contribute to global warming, and most importantly, doesn’t wake up the neighbors or upset his animals.

Our society has advanced much in the last few centuries, led by the use of fossil fuels to power our tools, transportation and houses. But I look at the drive to destroy vegetation as one arena where the use of power tools and chemical poisons (based on fossil fuels) may be viewed as ridiculous overkill, literally.

Every spring and summer, tons of chemicals are applied by the sides of roads in most places in an effort to kill grass or other “invasive species”, in the guise of fire aversion. If chemicals aren’t used, typically the roadsides are ridded of fuel by mechanical means. Not much in the way of science can be used to justify these activities. It’s just the way we’ve always done it (really?). I’d like to see a study that shows that this huge expenditure of time, effort and fossil fuels really does prevent fires any more than either nothing or better planning of roads and their surroundings.

The epitome of this sort of thinking is what I’ve also seen recently on my way to the community garden. A neighbor in a mask was spraying pesticide on the concrete by his house to rid the cracks of grass. As I’ve commented before in this column, all it would take to rid his cracks of their green inhabitants would be bending down and picking them out.

Recently logged forests are sprayed by plane to rid them of every possible plant before replanting the one species that makes the logging company (and the local government) money. Groundskeeping companies carry rakes, shovels and brooms, but never use them. Grass is cut with a riding lawn mower as soon as it gets above a half an inch.

Is it a love of power tools (or just power), or are we just lazy?

The weather has really been nice in the area the last few weeks. If there is some plant or insect in your garden that you can’t live with, there are so many tools that will make the job easy and don’t require electrical or gas power. Use them or your own hands and muscle to get the job done, or if you’re really lazy, just sit back on the lawn chair, drink of choice in hand, and let nature do its thing.

I kind of like that last choice. Go nature!

By Bob Goldberg

Bob moved to Astoria from Seattle in 2005, on the day Katrina hit New Orleans. He started writing for HIPFiSH in 2007. With a previous career as an environmental engineer with the Washington State Department of Ecology and a researcher at various companies and national labs, Bob tries to bring his scientific (i.e. objective) background to journalism. Outside the HIPFiSH world, Bob does programming on KMUN radio, sings tenor in the North Coast Chorale, tutors at Clatsop Community College, and helps with websites. He lives in Astoria with his beautiful and wonderful wife, his son and two cats.