Nature scores big in autumn action
I need to buy a leaf blower, yet I am hesitant. Leaf blowers whine, annoy neighbors and pollute. Raking is environmentally friendly but gives me blisters, achy muscles and sticks in my shoes. I can't decide.
Mature oaks and maples surround my house. The basset hound jumps through the leaves like a seal leaping through ocean waves. If I wait any longer, the house may disappear. I hear the trees laughing at me.
The town service removes leaves heaped at the curb on Mondays. It is late Sunday afternoon. My husband is out of town, and my daughter is doing homework. I face the leaves alone.
After years of resisting, I give in. I drive to Home Depot, the store with more than 40,000 home improvement supplies, building materials and garden products. Walking in, I hear my husband's voice in my mind: ''Did you compare models for emission controls, ignition systems and time-sensitive valves?''
I am ready with my response. '' No, I did not. It was 3 p.m. Sunday and raining leaves. I went to the store, uninformed, unadvised, but with credit card in hand and bought one! So there! I did it. Leave me alone.'' In my mind I give him a shrug and a glare.
I evaluate only gas models. I mastered our gas lawn mower last summer; a leaf blower can't be that much different. Finding the gas model with the highest RPMs, I test it by picking up the box. Yes, I can lug this around the yard.
At home, armed with my new gadget, I open the instruction booklet and read the safety information, ''Measure the oil and mix it with the gas in a one-gallon approved gasoline container which you have not transported open in a moving vehicle without permission.'' Following the instructions, I move the throttle, pump the primer, pull, yank and jerk the cord. Not a sputter nor a putt. I pull, yank, and jerk five more times, but nothing happens. I'm sweating and my hair resembles a cartoon character's, sharp angles and spikes. Sighing, I put down the blower and pick up the booklet. As I study, gas squirts out an air vent all over my shoes.
In the silence, leaves rustle. It sounds like chortling. The score: Nature 1, Homeowner 0.
I look around for a neighbor, but no one is outside. I walk two doors down to Steve's house, dragging the stubborn leaf blower like a leashed dog refusing to heel. Steve holds the leaf blower in one hand and yanks the cord with the other. For him, it roars. Over the noise I shout, ''Thank you!'' and dash back to my yard.
Starting my work in earnest, I learn the art of leaf blowing. Keep the nozzle down low when moving wet, matted leaves. Use large, sweeping motions for dry leaves. Scare the neighbor's cat by waving it high in the air and yelling, ''Buga, buga, buga!'' Leaves flutter under my command. Score: Nature 1, Homeowner 1.
One-third of the way through, the motor stops - out of gas. After refueling I yank the cord. Nothing happens. I move the throttle, twist all the knobs and jerk the cord and scream like a crazy woman. Nothing. The birds chirp, ''Nature 2, Homeowner 1, Nature 2, Homeowner 1.'' Leaves and twigs adorn my hair.
What to do• I begin raking. The rake breaks. I drop the fan part of the rake next to the trash and use the rake handle to impale the trash can.
Monday morning I look in the mirror. My hair is a mass of knots and leaf bits. The leaf removal truck whizzes by my house. I decide to return the cursed machine. As I leave, tree branches sway from side to side, as if to say, ''Goodbye and good riddance.''
At the returns counter, I tell my story to the cashier. He recommends the top-of-the-line electric model. I exchange the scratched, loathsome gas blower for the new, shiny electric one.
Returning home, I see that the trees have been busy molting. I nearly pull into my yard instead of my driveway.
On the porch, I rip open the box. With machine in hand, I attach the nozzle, clip on the holding strap and search for the power cord. Power cord• In my haste to return home I didn't notice that electric blowers don't come with power cords - like batteries not included.
Flopping onto a patio chair, I sigh and review my options: hire a yard service, start a controlled leaf fire, or cut down all the trees. For a moment I imagine the zing of the chainsaw blade as it flies through each tree trunk. The trees giggle. For a moment the score is Nature 3, Homeowner 1, but there's always the next battle.
The first snowflakes will arrive soon. Shovel or snowblower•
Jennifer Angelo is a Pittsburgh free-lance writer for the Tribune-Review.