Guest Column: Beware of an invasion of the ‘lawn locusts’

It was a hot, dry end of the day as the sun slid lazily past the yardarm, a call to crack a beer, relax outside and listen to the soothing whoop-whoop of helicopters overhead. Soon I heard another distant sound that stirred unease — the growl of a big diesel, accompanied by rattling of metal. Looking up the road, I could see a large crew cab truck towing a larger caboose. I was in dismay as it slowed and stopped across the street.

The crew cab doors opened and, pouring out like circus clowns from a VW bug, came a flock of lawn locusts. In quick succession out came the orange cones, and the road became one lane. The ramp of the caboose clanged down. Quickly, out came a parade of marvelous, lightly muffled mowers, blowers and trimmers. They lined up and, as if on cue, the small gas engines started in perfect syncopation, with a thunderous crescendo that did not abate. The mowers did their work, belching out CO2 and carbon particles; the blowers raised clouds of asthma-causing dust from the dry earth, while the trimmers cut off cryptic plants hiding in protected covens. The wind shifted slightly, enveloping me in fumes and dust, and the noise drowned out the helicopters overhead. I fled into the house and found it was much quieter in the cool, damp cellar, where pleasant thoughts of the approaching autumn promised relief from the screaming lawn machines outside.

But wait. I forgot that these locusts have the ability to metamorphose into leaf locusts. In the fall, new machines are dragged out from the large caboose. The lightly muffled lawn machines have changed into even less lightly muffled mini- and mega-blowers capable of generating roaring hurricane winds from 80 to 120 mph, with infuriating noise. These concentrated artificial winds not only create swirling storms of leaves but also blast away organic soil litter, destroying the micro-habitats of decomposing microbes and invertebrates. A diesel engine vacuum machine appears, swallowing huge masses of gaily colored leaves, along with the soil litter community responsible for the return of nutrients to the earth.

But no worry, one can readily purchase powerful fertilizers and chemical soil restorers. These nutrient pellets, lying on the stripped earth, will slowly be carried by rains into the bays, infecting them with hues of green, brown and mahogany-red.

When did the town government change the town code to turn residential areas into industrial zones? Why are multiple, lightly muffled gas engines allowed to play beyond an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday? Shouldn’t there be a limit to the number of lightly muffled machines operating simultaneously on the same property? Lawns are often cut not out of need but because of contracted schedules, resulting in unnecessary atmospheric pollution by these inefficient small engines.

Then, of course, there is the other problem: thousands of gallons of controversial biocides being applied on Southold’s lawns by well-intentioned property owners in the quixotic quest for the perfect green lawn. But that is another issue.

Most Southolders look forward to the tranquil enjoyment of their yards. But can they when subject to attack by the lawn and leaf locusts?

Will the peace of winter never come?

T_Hardy_CDoug Hardy is longtime Southold resident and a retired Southampton College marine science professor.