Falling Leaves – A Yard Full of Gold

leaves before the fall

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Raking leaves into piles and then burning them was a tradition from my childhood. When I became an adult, I realized this was one tradition that needed to go. We don’t need to send more smoke up into the air. In many townships, municipalities, and regions of the United States, the act of burning leaves is in violation of the law.

The Environmental Protection Agency warns against the burning of leaves because it causes air pollution, health problems, and fire hazards. Sending them to the landfill is no longer an alternative in most communities because of already overburdened landfills. Besides, putting them in plastic trash bags and hauling away organic matter to the landfill makes little or no sense.

It’s still a good idea to get most of the leaves up off the grass. However, leaving a few on the ground will provide some great fertilizer on the soil as they decompose.

We have more than an acre in our backyard where three old maples made themselves at home decades ago.

turning the ground gold

Right now the yard is beginning to look more gold than green as the leaves begin their descent from the limbs. We’re waiting now until most of those limbs are bare. When that happens, we plan to mow the grass one last time with our tractor. We’ll mow right over the leaves, chopping them into smaller pieces, which we’ll blow into long piles. From there it’s easy to put the leaves wherever we decide we want them.

waiting for mower

First, we put a protective layer around the base of the trees from where they fell. Then we load up the wagon several times and haul the piles over to the garden where we place the chopped up leaves. We’ve never had a problem with mold developing as I’ve heard some people say, but maybe it’s because we use chopped up leaves rather than putting them on whole.

garden is ready for some organic material

The rest of the leaves we put next to our compost bin and use them throughout the winter as layers between our food scraps. If you prefer, you could even bag them and keep them in the shed to use as needed.

If you don’t have a garden or you don’t compost, look for gardeners in your neighborhood. Some of them may be eager to haul away your leaves after you’ve raked them. Remember, the leaves are organic matter, so it just makes good sense to use them accordingly.

What do you do with your raked leaves?

A View from the Creek

Raccoon Creek 2011Raccoon Creek May 2011

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Raccoon Creek winds for nearly thirty miles through the foothills of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania. During its course through valleys and woodlands, it picks up several tributaries flowing down the hillsides before it dumps into the Ohio River thirty miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

We recently kayaked five miles of the creek from outside Raccoon Creek State Park. We actually put in our kayaks in Little Traverse Creek in the park and paddled a short distance to Raccoon Creek which begins its flow seven miles upriver.

Downed trees made the first mile or so rather challenging but interesting. We managed to get by the majority but were forced to portage the kayaks twice – once pulling under a tree and once carrying over a split trunk of a large sycamore. We hit some small white water flows and a few places where stones and rocks required some fast maneuvering. It’s a pleasant cruise. As soon as a challenge is met, there’s a wide expanse of deep water and easy floating as the water carries the kayak downstream. We saw deer swimming across the creek. Great blue herons yakked in the air above us flushing out smaller birds from the bushes on the banks. Little blue herons sat on downed tree limbs basking in the sun. And catfish more than a foot long swam past us in the clear water.

Skipping stones

When I wasn’t figuring out how to wedge between tree limbs or how to dodge the large rocks on the riverbed, I gazed at the trees, birds and skies with gratitude and relief. At one point, tears filled my eyes when I considered how close we came to losing this creek. While it looks pristine now, it really isn’t. Surrounding us in the hills and in the woods are abandoned coal mines, both underground and strip mines on the hilltops. A decade ago, this creek was filled with acid mine drainage, and no birds sang. If fish swam, they were filled with toxins such as mercury and unfit for consumption by any living thing.

Since 1781, the entire area was mined for coal, and Raccoon Creek and all its tributaries were nearly killed by acids and metals draining from the abandoned mines. The Raccoon Creek Watershed covers 184 square miles in southwestern Pennsylvania and Raccoon Creek runs right through the middle of it. After a report was released in 2000 on the levels of poisons in the creek, major efforts began, resulting in the installation of  acid mine drainage pollution treatment systems. Those efforts in the past decade have made a big difference here and elsewhere.

I brought my back up camera on the trip and took lots of pictures of Raccoon Creek and its abundance. As I prepared to write this blog, I couldn’t find the camera to download the pictures. I’m using photos from our trip last year when we attempted to kayak nearly the entire length of the creek. It ended two miles from our takeout point when we both collided into a fallen tree with a fast current moving underneath it.

The tree that took us out.

The rescued kayak from 2011

My kayak got away from me and our paddles floated along behind it. A rescue crew brought us home although the only thing rescued that day was my kayak.

Raccoon Creek is only navigable from March to June when the water is higher. We’ve been in a drought here for most of the spring and summer so we had to wait this year to get out until the rains brought the water level up high enough. Now we’ll have to wait until next year for our next cruise. Thanks to wise environmental practices now being implemented, the creek will be there waiting. And so will the wildlife.

A living creek