Published in the Martinsburg Journal, November 5, 2017

the Sound of Noise Pollution

Of all the luxuries in life, nothing is more difficult to get, and preserve,

than quiet.

In the middle of Chicago, I lived six feet away from a truck, bus and

motorcycle highway. When spring brought the first breeze that made you

remember that windows also go in the “up” position, the very next minute

brought the roar of a Hog, shifting gears with a volume loud enough to make

you bolt straight up from a deep sleep, as if you were a corpse suddenly

achieving full rigor mortis. Noise pollution creates the need to keep windows

closed, which creates the need to use a mechanical air flow system, which

uses more electricity even in ambient room-temperature weather, which

creates more noise from compressors, chillers and generators. The EPA

reports that now indoor air pollution is worse than outdoor pollution, due to

sealing up our homes to keep out the noise.

Moving to West Virginia was my best hope to escape the noise of sound

pollution. Unfortunately, the dreaded leaf blower followed me here.

Leaf blowers actually do no work, if work is defined as "the effort to

overcome obstacles and achieve an objective.” Removing leaves that were

functional all spring and summer but now seemingly require a contraption of

obscene inefficiency as the preferred process to banish them from the grass

that they were meant to nourish and protect from the frosts of winter, makes

as much sense as if homeowners decided that an entire tree must be

uprooted annually in order to spare one centimeter of clutter onto the sod

where they will drive their mowers next spring.

But the leaf blower is not just the blower of leaves. It is the demolisher of

quiet, the ruin of silence, the insane logic that makes the user believe that

the process of the stately elm shedding its chlorophyll-producing growth

should be blown, not raked, collected or vacuumed, not even shredded for

compost or mulch, by a shoulder-slung bazooka-like machine that pushes

the foliage from one side of the pavement to the other, and that it is

acceptable to force the blasting of it into the delicate pressurized canals of

our ears, audible from hundreds of yards up the road.

There are specific, detailed ordinances against “Excessive Noise,” and

according to Berkeley County law, a leaf blower far exceeds the 60-decibel

level to qualify as excessive; but then it exempts those levels---and the

time limit spent shattering them---for “lawn, garden or household

equipment associated with the normal repair, upkeep or maintenance of


But the Law of Community, violated by unnecessary, excessive, arbitrary

noise and air pollution created by the decision of one leaf-blowing

individual, is sadly being abused like some disposable ideal, much like the

dead leaf from the tree, first being blown by the wind, then by a hostile

invention that robs us of the luxury of our quiet. And in communities with

homes on expansive yards that were purchased in order to enjoy the

outdoors, where I rarely see anyone outside---these property owners now

buy jet engines to maintain their cosmetic definition of nature, insuring

that virtually no one else can enjoy the outdoors due to the noise of its

upkeep, either by them or their neighbors. It’s a paradox, and an

expensive, dirty one.

So, get rid of your leaf blowers and try letting the leaves lie where they

belong, like people in so many other communities across America have

done. Because if my ears can hear you from half a mile away, you have

invaded my home just the same as if you had trespassed on my property

in person.