Every action is a choice. When people make choices, as we all do hundreds of times a day, there will be some people who tell them their choice is wrong.

Leaf-raking is an odd example of this principle. For the past few years we have kept the autumn leaves that fall on our property on our property, instead of trucking them to the town’s compost facility, thus saving a bit of gasoline and getting good organic ingredients to add to the vegetable garden.

Two years ago, I got an electric leaf grinder, which compacts the freshly fallen leaves so they don’t take up as much space in the compost bins (made from recycled wooden pallets I picked up at that same town facility) and decompose more quickly. From July to October, when I put the previous year’s composted leaves in rows in the garden, the mix looks almost like rich soil.

A neighbor suggested that grinding the leaves was unnecessary because the leaves would rot eventually, and the electricity the grinder uses increases our home’s carbon footprint.
The neighbor is technically correct, of course. I strongly believe the changing climate is the earth’s biggest threat, and I do my best to limit my contribution to the damage. But I am sure the carbon footprint of my chopped-up leaves is lower than it would be if I went to the nursery to buy bags of commercial compost, then drove them home to our garden – even if that compost was created in Maine. Also, I would have to find space for the extra compost bins the unchopped leaves would take.

I will continue to chop leaves. That said, I was rushed when raking after the first snowstorm melted and as another storm threatened, so I skipped the chopping stage for a couple of our compost bins and emptied my leaf-gathering tarps straight into a bin. I’ll do some scientific comparison in the spring and maybe change my methods.

Japanese knotweed and other invasive plants are another bone of contention.

In late September, when I wrote about how knotweed seemed to be especially prevalent this year and called the plant evil, I received a comment that knotweed has many benefits, among them that it’s edible, loved by bees, and its roots are used to treat Lyme disease. Knotweed and other invasive plants are vilified, the reader argued, so that companies can sell more pesticides like Roundup.

Yes, knotweed has benefits. At the same time, invasive plants such as knotweed, bittersweet, multiflora rose, and Asiatic honeysuckle outcompete many native plants while providing few benefits — food or shelter — to local wildlife. In many cases, the invasive plants also kill nearby desirable plants.

And, yes, Roundup causes cancer and harms the environment.

But I also know that invasive species can be defeated without using Roundup. We have done it on our own property. It took a lot of time, but it worked, and our yard is better for it.

I don’t mind these comments from neighbors and readers. They show that people are paying attention, that they’re concerned with our planet and that they want to make it better. A good, friendly debate is one of the beauties of a civilized world.

It isn’t all disagreements. People view the simplest things differently.

I was put in close contact with 14 strangers when I was chosen for a jury in June. After a stressful few days, we were given an unexpected afternoon off.

When we reconvened the next day, people talked about how they had relaxed during our free day. I said I’d dug up plants I wanted to move, prepared the soil in our vegetable garden and other similar backyard tasks. Several fellow jurors tried to console me, sorry that that I hadn’t been able to relax. I had to explain that I was relaxing. Outdoor exercise after days of forced sitting indoors was, for me, the most enjoyable thing I could have done.

For the next year, my goal is to recognize and accept differences. I intend to live my life in a way that will harm the environment as little as possible, buy local as much as possible and add beauty where I can.

The toughest part will be to accept things that others do that I believe are harmful and keep my opinions to myself.

In a presidential election year, that may be impossible.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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