Unwelcome leaves of autumn

Front Range Family

By Alex Miller


For weeks, I regarded the vast quantity of leaves that had appeared in our back and front yard with a mixture of annoyance, curiosity and a sort of detached bemusement. “Do I,” I wondered, “Really have to deal with this crap?”

Yes, the answer turned out to be, I really did. Here in the lowlands, there are apparently 7 bazillion species of deciduous trees, all hell-bent on depositing their death-knell detritus on the suburban floor for the harried homeowners and renters to deal with. This in sharp contrast to our former home in Frisco where, at 9,000 feet, only the humble aspen — with its small leaves so eager to blow away or seemingly evaporate under the snows of winter — had the temerity, the poor manners to descend to Earth. In springtime, it was a simple matter of raking up the few stragglers and moving on with more important things — like skiing.

In out Northridge neighborhood, managing the fallout from the many local trees is a cottage industry unto itself. Many a suburban hour is spent raking, bagging and disposing of this organic matter, and the sound of leaf blowers — a device as obnoxious and cursed as the jet-ski or snowmobile — permeated the ’hood.

But why? Surely nature has determined this process has a most excellent reason for working as it does, and any dendrologist worth his xylems and phloems would no doubt tell me leaves do a great job adding nutrients to the soil, preventing erosion, curbing weed growth and providing cover for helpful critters like worms.

But, of course, that doesn’t account for The Lawn. Pampered, fragile and whiny, the suburban lawn scorns the leaves that fall, and it will demonstrate its displeasure by turning a moist and ugly shade of yellow and demanding it be uncovered, generously irrigated with precious mountain water and lavished with all order of horrific chemicals just stopping by on their way to our drinking water supplies.

People speak of the chore of leaf removal as “raking leaves,” but in my mind that’s the easy part. It’s the bagging that’s a pain in the ass, and until I could get my son off the computer to hold open the bag for me, I was cursing the leaves left and right as they flouted my attempts to confine them in 17 (17!) 39-gallon Walmart bags. Betwixt the chore itself, I labored under the guilt of what I was doing: curtailing a natural process that would enrich the soil and aid the trees in favor of removing all this good stuff from the ecosystem, encasing it in plastic and consigning it to the landfill, where it’ll rot away for decades, centuries, doing nobody any good.

But what are the options? Leaves, of course, are prime organic material that decompose easily and so make great additions (so I imagine) to any compost pile. In an ideal world, perhaps, trucks with vast bins for leaf storage would park in every lawned neighborhood every fall, there to receive a bountiful harvest of dead leaves to be composted, used in biofuel or whatever. Throwing them away seems sinful and stupid, the kind of thing our grandchildren will hear us tell about and recoil in horror: “You mean you didn’t compost your leaves for biofuel? You just threw them out?!”

Someday, perhaps, we’ll learn. Chances are in the coming decades lawns will become a thing of the past as water grows ever more scarce, and we’ll welcome the autumn leaves for mulching and composting as a way to bolster the productive gardens we’ll all have instead of resource-sucking lawns … and the world will be a better place.

Oh, and by the way: The City and County of Denver already has a Leaf Drop program where you can bring those errant leaves (in recyclable paper bags) to drop points around the city. You have to be a Denver resident, alas, which prompts this request of the commissioners and other elected officials of Douglas County: Let’s get a leaf composting program going here!

It’d be a nice, sane thing to do.


Alex Miller is a former editor of the Summit Daily and Vail Daily newspapers who recently moved to Highlands Ranch with his family. Contact him at talex10@gmail.com.

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