They ARE big and leafy

‘Just a few more leaves and I”m done’ **pant pant** The boulders, black Columbia basalt, were salvaged from the landscape at my old office. Carrying them into this spot was hard.

That enormous ‘thud’ you heard about three weeks ago was all of my Acer macrophyllum leaves falling to earth all at once.  I don’t believe in the Butterfly Effect, so I feel confident the air displaced by the falling leaves did not circumnavigate the globe and cause Hurricane Sandy, but the impact concussion was so great I cannot say the same for the 7.7 – magnitude earthquake that rocked the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia on October 27, right on the same fault line as the Pacific Norwestern U.S., where I live.

My friend Elaine recently spoke of Bigleaf Maple, with a mild allusion to their potential annoyingness.  Paghat, whose site is an amazing compendium of seemingly all things vegetative, strikes a more elegiac tone for the tree.  Personally, I think that anyone who says anything good about Bigleaf Maple doesn’t have one growing in their yard.  The twenty or thirty I have in the deep woods don’t bother me, but I have eleven of them, pretty much at each point of the clock face, ringed around my home and clearing.  The only place I don’t have one is dead center in my driveway, and I solve that shortcoming by having a very large specimen right across the street.   I don’t speak of them in warm sepia tones or subtly hint at their makework-making.  I hate the #@&* things.

As my clearing and most of the space around my home are planted with tender forest

We get about five cold, clear days each fall and winter, perfect for leaf suckering. The freezey leaves stick together and come up in sheets, which clogs the machine up real good.

mosses and many, many young plants, I can neither allow the leaves to sit in place and rot away over the two years it takes for them to decay (because they will smother anything beneath them, and form a multilatyered, overlapping hydrophobic mat, and by the time they decay they will already be covered with another season’s layer of leaves. I know this from close observation of the areas where I do not collect them), nor can I just rake them up (because I’d rake everything up underneath them).  I vacuum them up with my sucker/shredder, which is good for the plants underneath, and leaves me with nicely shredded mulchey leaves to use as soil amendments. 

It also took me a total of 43 HOURS to completely collect all the baseball-mitt-sized leaves from the time of the first significant drop until all the trees were bare.  I now have about ten cubic yards of shredded leaves–think: mid-sized four-door sedan–and well more than I have use for.  That is a lot of leaves, a lot of time spent razzinfrickenrizzenracken’ while I bloody my knuckles clearing clogs in the impeller, and an extremely sore leaf sucker/shredder arm–even my Popeye-like forearms wilt under the strain of a 12 pound tool and a twenty-five pound satchel of damp leaf shreds over three or four hours of sucking. It kind of hurts even to type, right at this moment.

I think these trees are stupid.  They don’t fully leaf out until early June, and the leaves begin to fall in mid-september.   From a distance and en masse, they show a gold ribbon through the forest in autumn, but up close this gold is revealed to be a blotchy and

Frost on the Dirtle! Feels like fall is right around the corner, my mom would say…though she had Alzheimer’s, so she said it felt like fall was right around the corner several times every day of the year.

unattractive hue midway between green and a dead brown.  When bare, they present a spectral form against the grey sky I kind of like, and festooned with licorice fern, moss, and liverwort, can be visually very appealing.  But trees with extremely fast growth tend to have relatively short lives, and when branches as thick as my waist and dozens of feet long suddenly crash to earth through the forest canopy, it can be ahemalarming. One minute, they are just standing there tree-ing, the next minute they want to flatten your roof, your car, or your head.  I fantasize about cutting them down, but I don’t have a chainsaw with a 48 inch bar, and my blue ox is in the shop. 

I like fall as much or more as the next guy: I’ve taken my family to two corn mazes, five pumpkin patches, visited seven farms, consumed about eleven gallons of fresh-pressed cider, bought and actually eaten an entire 25 pound box of of Skagit Valley apples.  I love

FREE! FREE! FREE! And oh, so much better than that porch couch and wide-grain oak/smoked glass stereo cabinet you are thinking about going back and getting.

brilliance, burnishment, burnished brilliance, brilliant burnishment, all of Autumn’s glory, oh yeah.  But dude.  I am burned out on leaves, and so happy now to look up and see nothing but winter’s bare ruined choirs.  Enough, I say. My youth lies on an ashy bed of shreddy leaves.

I am pretty sure an upgrade to my leaf sucker/shredder is in my future; my tool works,but it is underpowered and limited in capacity for the paces I am putting it through…Stihl makes a gas-powered commercial leaf sucker/shredder that gets pretty good reviews.  There is a Stihl dealer in my zip code, I am going to have to check it out next weekend…and if you live anywhere near me, and want some shred-y leaves for your garden, Hit me up! as the kids say.  I will happily point you at the pile, if you bring your own containers and conveyance.  I might even help you, if my arms feel better by then.

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12 Responses to They ARE big and leafy

  1. Deirdre says:

    I have one good thing to say about the big leaf maple at the corner of my lot. It stopped the drunk who took the curve too fast a number of years ago. I wish the chick who hit the house a couple of years ago had hit the tree, too.
    Actually I have two good things to say about big leaf maples. The leaves are great anywhere you want to smother things. I rake the leaves off the lawn and walks, and dump them along the fenceline. I was grateful when they finished falling and I could clean the gutters.

    • calvincaley says:

      THAT is extremely useful. If I had two, and they were at the front corners of my property, I’d be psyched. As it is, I salvaged several more of those basalt boulders and placed them as Visually Interesting Speed Bumps. And ooooohhhhh. The gutters.

      • Deirdre says:

        I used some of the insurance money to put LARGE rocks in the corner where the car came through.

      • calvincaley says:

        I think I prefer rocks in the landscape to plants…I just wish they weren’t so heavy. My ‘speed bumps’ are at the limit I can move, hopefully enough to slow or deflect a car. Given how fast people drive past my home, not likely. All I can do is try.

  2. I hear ya’. In my neck of the woods we have Sycamore tress whose leaves are extremely large and heavy. They don’t all drop at once, but they sure do take every bit of two years to decompose. If you ever get the Stihl, let me know how it goes. Been eyeing one myself.

    • calvincaley says:

      Mario, I have heard about those, they seem troublesome also. Last year, my leaves fell in dribs and drabs over the course of about five weeks, and somehow my collected volume was about half of this year’s. We had an extremely long, wet spring that continued to late July this year, and then went almost 90 days without rain and with higher than normal temperatures (yes, we do have ‘drought’ in Western Washington!). I think this is why the leaves clung to the trees for so long. But mid-October’s heavy rains and a couple fairly windy days brought them down in enormous drifts. I am going to check out the Stihl this Saturday, it draws vacuum at 110 more cubic feet per minute more than my Worx TriVac, and apparently has multiple impeller blades; being untethered from the electrical cord would make using the tool substantially easier also. Not very ‘Zen,’ moss-gardenwise, but I notice more and more that while I am just as strong as I was ten years ago, fatigue sets in more quickly. I can’t imagine myself ten years from now accomplishing marathon five to seven-hour leaf sucking sessions. I need something that can do it FASTER.

  3. Tia says:

    Take solace that your labors won’t be required forever. Once the wee young things are big enough to withstand the onslaught, they will. The ferns, mahonia, huckeleberry, et al know how to deal. You’re giving them the fighting chance they need at this point. As bad as the leaves are, the seedlings are even more dastardly. I wince when anyone recommends bigleaf maple as a landscape tree. Truly.

    • Deirdre says:

      You’re lucky your leaves fell all at once. Mine took weeks.
      My rocks required a machine to put in place. They should slow down a car.

    • calvincaley says:

      Unless the trees have a surprise unfortunate demise (I can think of a number of ways this COULD occur, just sayin’), I’ll be collecting the leaves for as long as I live in the home, as culturing and cultivating the forest mosses took a lot of work, and I don’t want them to be smothered. They are my favorite thing. You are absolutely correct though, native plants are uniquely suited to their challenges, for the most part…they would do even better if they could take up small arms against the Mountain Beavers, though. NATURE FIGHT! Bigleaf maple is for certain an eager self-sower, an aggressive grower, and a resource hog, PLUS the Swamp Cypress-like elevated root structure becomes a sort of varmint condominium. It is a tree best left to grow into the forest areas colonized by alder, where both trees can grow like crazy and then fall on top of one another. If this didn’t happen so frequently and so close to my house, I bet it wouldn’t even make a sound! Thank you for saying hi!

  4. Pingback: SUPER DUPER Sucker Shredder | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

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