Harmonizing With Summer

What sounds come to mind when you think of summer? The thrum of bees on sorties in the midday sun. The vibrato of hummingbird wings as they hover over the stand of Bergamot in bloom. The periodic crescendo of cicadas punctuating the sultry, hot hours. The early morning choir of avian throats stirring the world awake. The staccato beat of the woodpecker keeping time on the dying sugar maple. The sunset chorus of frogs by the pond. The frenetic percussion of a summer thundershower ending the heat wave. The high pitched laughter of sun-kissed children cooling off in the neighborhood pool. These are the sounds of my idyllic summer.

Sadly, it has become almost impossible to truly enjoy these seasonal melodies. Like the rustling of candies being unwrapped or the ringing of the unsilenced phone ruining the experience of going to the philharmonic or movie, our solace in our gardens is being spoiled by mowers and leaf blowers in use at any given hour of day. They drown out the natural sounds or worse, scare away the musicians all together.

The Law of Mo-Blo rules our lives all through the warm months. If you’re sitting down to an al fresco meal or settling in for a read and/or nap in the hammock, rest assured a neighbor will begin priming the mower or leaf blower. It never fails. The noise from these machines has permanently become the background sound of the season. The hallmark of summer in suburbia.

But, it needn’t be a status quo. We can do something about it. We must make the effort for the sake of our health, our hearing, the environment and our sanity.

The verdict is in. Particulate matter is produced at dangerous levels by leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and brush cutters. Pregnant women and young children must be kept away from their harm. Recent studies at the University of Pittsburgh have implicated these particulates in increasing the risk of childhood autism by as much as 50%.
The high decibel noise generated by yard equipment can damage our hearing. The people operating the machines are exposed to this noise even more so. The U.S. Surgeon General warns that “Excessive noise exposure during pregnancy can influence embryonic development”.
That the machines consume a great deal of gas and the resulting pollution of the air hardly needs reiteration.

Additionally, leaf blowing erodes soil, destroys the habitats of wildlife, stirs up pesticides, dust and fungal/bacterial spores (watch out asthmatics), reduces the water retention capacity of soil and in high temperature, causes ground level ozone formation.

I don’t need to elaborate on the repercussions of being distracted or unsettled in our work and other creative pursuits by the impact of loud sounds. And I certainly don’t need to discuss the ruined ambiance at outdoor events. I expect very little argument against the need to curtail the use of the harmful machines.

So lets get pro-active. For starters, every town should have ordinances limiting the hours of lawn equipments use. Personally, I’d like a ban on any such noise after 6:00 pm on weekdays and absolutely no weekend use altogether. This might be seen as inconvenient at first but, trust me we can get used to it. The tranquillity that will ensue will be worth the adjustment. Across the country, there are some towns that have such laws but they are too few and far between. A concerted program is in order. Every citizen ought to lobby for it.

Until such legislation is instated, neighbors could form their own pacts to be considerate and thoughtful. Come to a consensus for the betterment of all.

At a personal level, follow the three Rs – Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. Reduce the lawn area by creating more/larger flower beds, planting more trees, letting a meadow grow. Mow with the blade at a height of about four inches. Let lawn clippings stay on the lawn as they will quickly settle down to nourish the soil and keep it from drying too fast.
Rake leaves off lawns and dispose them in the compost. You can skip a trip to the gym on those days! Let leaves remain in beds as they make for a good mulch – the soil will be enriched and kept moist and weed free. Plants will require less watering too.

If you must, use electric instead of the gas powered machines. This is the lesser of the two evils. Seriously consider getting a manual powered reel lawn mower. The new models are light to use and very efficient. And so quiet! Some sweat equity and fresh air will do us all good.
If you employ a lawn service, discuss with them the need for environmentally sound measures. There are now companies that offer ‘green’ management of yards. They might charge more but are worth the expense. What you think you’re saving in money by hiring the much too common mow-blow- and go crews actually comes at great cost to all of our well being. And this includes our pets, our environment and the entire planet.

We must each play our part responsibly so we can forever dance in harmony to the pure sounds of summer.

My front lawn is quite tiny. The grass is kept at a height of 4 inches. While it looks pristine, it is not all purely grass. Many other greens such as clover are mingled in.

My front lawn is quite tiny. The grass is kept at a height of 4 inches.
While it looks pristine, it is not all purely grass. Many other greens such as clover are mingled in.

The meadow in May. It gets mowed perhaps two times in the whole year - towards the very end of summer. With a push-reel mower.

The meadow in May. It gets mowed perhaps two times in the whole year – towards the very end of summer. With a push-reel mower.

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Whole leaf mulch at the Singapore Botanical Gardens

Whole leaf mulch at the Singapore Botanical Gardens

(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

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