Front page | Essays index


Hand-Picked Convenience


After putting in a couple of hours of carving on one of my woodblocks this morning, I took a short break and stepped out onto my balcony to stretch my back and legs a bit. I like to get outside to do this, because during the carving, my face is held so close to the wood that my eyes never get a chance to focus on anything more than a few centimeters away. But once outdoors, of course they are free to focus far and wide.

As I stood there today, leaning on the railing and idly watching the world go by, I noticed a man busy with what seemed to be a most unusual activity. He was raised above the ground in one of those hydraulic hoists that people working on power lines use, but he was nowhere near the wires. He was positioned right against the tree nearest my window, one of the hundreds of ginkgo trees that line the main roads of Hamura. I stared in some disbelief at what he was doing. He wore heavy work gloves, reached out to each branch of the tree, and quickly stripped it of all the leaves. He worked very rapidly indeed, and a veritable shower of greenery cascaded to the ground, where another man raked it together and threw it all into the back of their truck.

It didn't even take him a minute to strip the tree completely bare, after which he lowered his hoist, helped his friend clean up the sidewalk, and then drove forward a few meters to the next tree, where the sequence started over again.

This all seemed completely insane to me, but after a few moments reflection, I understood why they were doing this. It is now late October, and although the leaves are all yet green, they will soon be turning bright yellow, and then falling ... and falling ... and falling. It will take about a month until they are all down, and during that time, the sidewalks and streets will be constantly covered with the yellow carpet. If the weather remains good, that is. If however, it rains a lot during this time, the fallen leaves will turn into a slippery dirty muck coating the sidewalk. A dangerous coating that must be labouriously scraped off and hauled away. And of course, as the trees only release their leaves a few at a time, keeping the sidewalk safe is a labour-intensive and quite expensive job.

In past years, we here in this 'mansion' and the people living in the house next door, have usually been pretty good about sweeping up our section of the sidewalk, but as most of the remainder of the street is a commercial zone, nobody feels particularly responsible for those trees, and the muck stays on the sidewalk.

So the people in City Hall whose job it is to maintain the streets, have come up with this 'preventive medicine'. Strip off all the leaves before they fall. Each work crew then has to cover each street only once, and there is never a mess on the sidewalk. It is, I am sure, quite efficient and cost-effective.

Except for one thing. What happens to our autumn? The long rows of gingko trees in bright yellow livery are beautiful! Kicking through piles of leaves we have raked up is fun! An autumn without falling leaves? That's no autumn at all. I feel now as though we've skipped over and gone straight into winter. The sight of those rows of bare tree limbs stretching forlornly down the long street ...

I suppose this is just one more example of how life in our modern cities is becoming ever-more distanced from 'natural' ('with nature') ways of living. What's next? Plastic cherry blossoms tied to the lamp posts in spring? But of course, we already have those too, down many of our shopping streets ...

I guess this autumn clean-up is thus inevitable. Our city is truly a large machine, and must be kept well cleaned and 'oiled', or it will cease to function properly. Later on in the month, after it is time for the leaves to turn yellow, I will stroll over to one of our large parks, and enjoy the colours there. But I wonder. Do you think they might have stripped those trees too? If they have, I'm going to make some noise!