Burn leaves, Ban leaf blowers

Those of a certain age may recall the not unpleasant scent of leaves burning in the fall.  This was the traditional way of disposing of the season’s regular deposits of detritus from trees as the season changed.  The smoke emanating from the burning of leaves was no doubt polluting our atmosphere. Bad, bad, bad. So, in the name of cleaner air, well-intentioned political leaders banned the burning of leaves. But, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.  In place of an improved, smoke-free environment,  the titans of technology came up with — wait for it — leaf blowers!  These high-decibel contraptions now pollute the air not only with their obnoxiously loud sound but, when gas-fueled, they also pollute the atmosphere.  Consequently, there is scarcely such thing as a suburban oasis of  peace and quiet.


I was struck with this lack of peace and quietude the other day while walking home through a seasonally leafy suburban neighborhood and trying to carry on a cell phone conversation with a  cousin in a distant metropolitan area. With the noise from a nearby leaf blower, I could hardly hear her.  But on my walk, I passed nearby neat curbside leaf piles awaiting the leaf vacuum trucks we pay for with our taxes to keep our lawns leaf-free.  Hey people, remember raking? They say it’s good upper body exercise, and the decibel level is low enough to even carry on a conversation. Blown or raked, they may still all be gone with the wind.


There have been many songs written about autumn, if not yet about leaf blowers.  Here are  some lyrics from my favorite, written by Henry Nemo:


Old Father Time checked, so there’d be no doubt
Called on the north wind to come on out
Then cupped his hands so proudly to shout
La-di-da, di-da-di-dum, ’tis Autumn

The trees say they’re tired, they’ve born too much fruit
Charmed all the wayside, there’s no dispute
Now shedding leaves, they don’t give a hoot
La-di-da, di-da-di-dum, ’tis Autumn


Today in History: Hapless Henry Gunther, the Great War’s Final Fallen

It was Nov. 11, 1918. Armistice Day. The opposing powers had agreed that the killing would end at precisely 11 a.m.  But Baltimorean Henry N. Gunther did not get the memo. One minute before the Armistice was to take effect, Gunther, 23, was fatally shot in the left temple as he stormed a German machine gun nest. He died instantly, not knowing that the conflict was 60 seconds from being over.  After the war, a VFW post was named in his honor. Read more about how and when the War to End All Wars took its last life, that of an obscure American soldier from Baltimore, in my new book Hidden Maryland: In Search of America in Miniature.

Happily, speaking invitations continue to come for my last book  Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army, published in June 2018.  On Feb . 6, I will be at the “Lunch and Learn” program hosted by the St. Michaels, Md. public library.  On March 14, I’m scheduled for a Zoom presentation to the Chester County, Pa. historical society.  I’m pleased that the book has brought these five brave men out of the shadows, and that they are “hidden figures” no more.  So far, Five for Freedom has not yet reached the book club circuit. But I’m open to that.  If interested, as my millennial son would say, hit me up.

If you “like” either book, please review and star them on Amazon and Goodreads. The Kindle price on Hidden Maryland is reduced to $2.99 – down from $4.99 – for just six days.  To market, to market, to market….


ICYMI… An article about an ageless long-distance runner and some book reviews published in recent weeks. Click here to read about 79-year old Dave Obelkevich, who completed his 45th consecutive NYC Marathon on November 6.  After a nearly disabling aneurysm in his left leg two years ago (when the marathon was canceled due to the pandemic), Dave is now alternately walking and running–and finishing!  To see his 2022 stats, click here.

I’ve been honored to serve on the board of the Washington Independent Review of Books since it debuted online in February 2011. Over the years, I’ve contributed dozens of reviews and essays, which can be found here.  Most recently, I reviewed Rip Van Winkle’s Republic: Washington Irving in History and Memory  There is so much here in a collection of essays from a 2020 conference canceled due to Covid-19. So much to know about this once popular literary icon and the early American history of the Hudson Valley.  Reviewing the book also prompted me to reread his two most famous short stories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”    Just previously, I reviewed military historian Tom Ricks’ intriguing take on the civil rights movement in Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968. To read my review, click here.

Autumn Reflection

Our home in Silver Spring, Md. backs onto Sligo Creek Park.  Refreshingly, there are no leaf blowers in the park.  There is… silence.  And nature.  It’s where I go to get away from the high-decibel blowers and those neatly curated curbside leaf piles, and where I sometimes pause to capture an image of the natural setting.  So, I leave (leaf?) you with this autumn reflection in Sligo Creek, a few hundred yards and a world away from my not so quiet suburb.


  1. DMD on November 11, 2022 at 10:19 am

    suggestion: fallen leaves make great mulch for over-wintering garden beds.

  2. Allen Hirsh on November 11, 2022 at 10:36 am

    Gene and Sandy! You must come to my new apartment, now an art gallery, for a home cooked meal. Now, to your essay. Half right, leaf blowers are wretched. Bu as by neighbor on Ellsworth Ct could have told you give me you tired and hungry leaves yearning to be composted-the real way to deal with the problem. Just as in the forest, return the nutrients the tees have extracted to the soil along with the soil enhancing humus. Every time you remove leaves you are injuring your land. Just a word fro the boy biologist.

  3. Rita Rubin on November 11, 2022 at 11:32 am

    Yes, Gene, yes! Mike and I have a sign in our yard that basically asks why Bethesda can’t be like Chevy Chase Village, which has an ordinance banning the use of gas leaf blowers 365 days a year. The noise is headache-inducing!

  4. Ed Grosvenor on November 11, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    Anyone who wants to use a leaf blower should switch to electric from gas. Much quieter and no polluting fumes. We just phased out our old blower that ran with an electric cord and bought a Kobalt 40-volt cordless electric leaf blower. Very powerful and quiet.
    And there’s always the rake!

  5. Lisa Palladino on November 14, 2022 at 3:47 pm

    Thank you for including the CCT article on Dave O. ’65! As for leaf blowers, here in NYC it’s doubly bad: Use a leaf blower, then shove the poor leaves in plastic bags that are bound for the landfill, where they are sure to NEVER decompose.

  6. Saul on November 14, 2022 at 4:29 pm

    If burning was permitted we would have BOTH the joy of leave blowers and the smoke from burning leaves.

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