Leaves want to be free

Opinion: Dan Haley

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

This has been a tough fall for hiding my hosta detritus.

First, the leaves wouldn't fall from my trees at all. Two weekends back I was ready, clippers-oiled, to start taking down my garden for the winter. Damned leaves were still stuck to the trees, changing colors, looking sharp. But I needed them on the ground, ready to rake into the street where I could discretely fold in bumble-bee bush remnants, previously flowing grasses, a whole lot of annuals, including the impatiens before things froze and they turned to the clammy consistency of cold oatmeal.

Then, in a scene out of one of the lesser Charlie Brown TV shows, the Autumnal Clunk came and most of the leaves fell in a rush.

So the weekend before last, I raked and raked, snipped and pulled, layered and arranged my leaves artfully into a 10-foot by 8-foot pile that gave no evidence of containing the moldering leaves of 18 hosta plants.

I wasn't finished with the garden shutdown, but as we all know, the weekend just past was "tornadic" — which the meteorologists really enjoyed saying all Sunday afternoon. So no raking and no hiding of garden debris for me until next weekend.

I am proclaiming my civil disobedience — the village's website scolds "Leaves Only" — as an early warning to all villagers who see the leaf removal program as our only chance all year to try and turn a small profit on the enormously high property taxes we pay.

It is possible, and this is based on actual reporting, by which I mean talking to a guy, that this program might not survive the current round of "fresh eyes" flitting around village hall looking for cost savings and so-called new approaches.

"Sure," this guy I talked to said, "I like just raking my leaves into the street. But is it fair? What do other towns do?"

Oh, the dreaded "what do other towns do" approach to governance. Stinking research.

Well, what of Oak Park exceptionalism, I exclaim. We're racially integrated. We have speed bumps in our downtown made out of bluestone. John Mahoney lives here. And we pick up leaves (and possibly other vegetative matter) for free for seven weeks out of the blooming year.

That's my town!

Sure I know the chances are now great that Village Manager Cara Pavlicek will be poking my leaf pile with a stick next Sunday evening looking for fern fronds and possibly small pieces of garden furniture I've tired of. But I'm ready to stand up for that one free thing that makes the $9 monthly municipal tax on my cable bill tolerable.

I'm a native Oak Parker, you see. And so I remember the "Junk Away Days" of my youth. A single week each summer when the village would send battalions of trucks out to cruise the alleys and pick up anything and everything a villager could haul out of their basement, attic, garage, Wisconsin vacation home, corporate office. It was a spectacular and cleansing disgorgement. Miles of piles. Old rugs. Water heaters. Dead grandpa's clothes. Chunks of concrete. A year's worth of the Trib back when that was saying something.

And it was all for free.

But, citizens, we let that birthright get away from us. Junk Away Days is lost to history. Let's not let Free Leaf (and whatever) Pickup go away, too.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 22nd, 2013 12:09 PM

Good point, Muntz. I'm questioning the scheduling of leaf pick up beginning so early in the season and ending too soon. Looking out my windows, I notice a number of parkway trees are still holding their leaves and will not drop them to the ground until after the collection period is over. Not sure how many folks want to be raking in December but the need to begin gathering up the leaves from our streets before conditions causes them to fall doesn't make sense. I'm sure Public Works would report that the amount removed increases as the temperatures get cooler. There has to be statistical data that would detail when the heaviest collection period begins. People should be encouraged to mulch leaves. Grind them up if your mower has that function and just let the clippings feed your lawn or add to the compost bin.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 22nd, 2013 11:52 AM

Speedway, a large family can request an additional bin. My guess is that the majority of trash containers being picked up are not overflowing and haven't notice that to be a problem in our neighborhood. The trash collector should be able to tells us exactly how much is being hauled away on a weekly basis. Let's see if we are that close to capacity. If bins are securely closed there should not a problem with critters. Perhaps the Health, Finance and Public Works departments could offer an opinion on the benefits vs. risks of reducing the number of garbage pickup days. We're getting hammered on the costs charged by these private collectors and need to consider some options before the next contract is awarded. You can count on those charges to continue to increase along with the water service fees. The Village board should be willing to explore some ways to help homeowners.


Posted: November 22nd, 2013 10:37 AM

Jim - Unfortunately, less pickups would lead to flooding issues when we get rains like like week. Everyone puts their leaves in the street but block the curbs, thereby creating large dams during heavy rains. And the weekly cleaning also helps clear off the sewer covers.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 22nd, 2013 5:45 AM

Disagree with you on the garbage Jim. Every other week is not often enough for people with larger families. Near me the bins are overflowing after a week for those with large families. We don't want to increase the rat population in town.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 22nd, 2013 2:33 AM

The current schedule for leaf pick up definitely needs to be reworked. It's begins way too early in the season and stops while a lot of trees have yet to drop their leaves. Cut back on the frequency of removal and extend the deadline. The Village might also consider contracting to have garbage trucks empty trash bins every other week. It's getting to be really expensive for homeowners and the containers are certainly appear large enough to easily accomodate two weeks worth of trash. Recycling of cans, bottles, paper and plastic bags has significantly reduced the amount of stuff we are now tossing out. A couple of suggestions for the board to consider that might save taxpayers money.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 9:22 PM

I say keep our leaf standards as they are. You don't want to know what other towns do, it is much worse than what we do.

Roger Conner from Oakpark  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 6:43 PM

The question to ask after, "what do other towns do?" Is "how much lower are the taxes in those other towns?"

Brent from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2013 6:48 PM

I showed this to my wife, who repeatedly commits her one major sin. yes, she too "hides" garden debris. I have heard of people putting concrete blocks in leaf piles, I hope this doesn't give anybody ideas. So I guess you debris hiders are not too bad. Please ask your resident religious (KT) expert if she has to admit this at her semi-regular confession at Ascension?

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