Autumn means high season in Tree City USA

The Cincinnati Enquirer

You think youıve got lots of leaves to rake?

John Wirtz has 650 tons.

That happens when you are Mr. Leaf in Wyoming. Itıs a perk of the public works directorıs job in a city rich in mature trees.

Wyoming is ‹ by official proclamation of the National Arbor Day Foundation ‹ Tree City USA. What else would you expect from a town whose stands of trees are so thick, they provide curb-to-curb canopies over streets named Oak, Chestnut, Maple, Walnut, Elm, Poplar, Linden and Beech.

In Wyoming, mighty oaks grow to be 100 feet tall as well as 200 and 300 years old. Their branches spread wider than the lengths of two houses. Their massive trunks occupy honored places in the cityıs stately front yards.

When a tree dies in Wyoming, John Wirtzıs crews plant one in its place.

ŒŒWe cut down about 75 dead trees a year,ıı he reckoned from behind his oak desk in his Oak Avenue office. ŒŒWe plant 100 new ones. The character of our community is trees. Theyıre beautiful this time of year. The bright yellows look like sunshine. You donıt want that to change.ıı

Wyoming truly is a city of trees. But, in the fall, it turns into a city of leaves.

Leaves ŒRı us

The streets of Wyoming and many other local communities would be buried under the orange, crimson, auburn and lemon yellow downfall ‹ if it werenıt for guys like John Wirtz and his three-man crews. From October through December, they are on leaf patrol.

Before the crews can go into action, residents must rake the leaves to the curb. That includes Mrs. Leaf. On Thursday, Jean Wirtz was raking leaves while her husband tended to city business.

ŒŒItıs good exercise,ıı she said, wiping her brow.

ŒŒBut this,ıı she said, pointing to the words Fort Lauderdale on her sweat shirt, ŒŒis where Iıd rather be.ıı There are no leaves to rake on the beach.

When Wyomingıs leaves are curbside, the crew of Jay Schneider, Kevin Lewallen and Lamour Seay make the fallen foliage disappear.

ŒŒAIM LOW!ıı Lamour shouted above the roar of a vacuum cleaner made to suck up leaves.

He handed me the hose and shouted a warning: ŒŒPOWERFUL SUCTION!ıı

Kevin raked a small mountain range of leaves in my direction. WHOOSH! It was gone ‹ up the hose, through the grinder, and down into the dump truck beside me. Jay was in the driverıs seat following us down the street at a snailıs pace.

Some leaves were still on the curb. I went for them. A big bag of garbage started sliding toward the hose.

ŒŒAIM LOW!ıı Lamour shouted, stepping on the bag. Disaster averted.

Away from the vacuum, Kevin declared:

ŒŒWe take pride in what we do. But this is very monotonous work. Eight hours a day, you keep your head down and rake leaves. You donıt look up for all of the dust in the air. We do appreciate the fall colors. But only on the the weekend.ıı

To relieve the monotony, they tell jokes.

ŒŒWe always tell the same one,ıı Jay said from the cab of the truck.

ŒŒPeople ask us, ŒHowıs business?ııı

In unison, they answer:

ŒŒPicking up.ıı

Admirable work

Jokes like that are what make Kevin long for winter. In February, the leaves are mulched at their dumping ground in Wyomingıs Oak Park.

The mulch, 450 tons of it, goes back to city residents in the spring. They can put it around their trees to grow more leaves and make more work for the leaf patrol. Itıs a waste-free recycling program and built-in job security all rolled into one.

But February is many, many leaves away. So, for now, Kevin will just be satisfied with the snows of December.

ŒŒWhen it snows, we plow the streets,ıı he said. ŒŒTheyıre salted, and theyıre clean. You can look back where youıve been and admire what youıve done.ıı

But, in the fall, itıs never a clean sweep.

ŒŒWe can go down a street and pick up every leaf.ıı

Then he steps back to admire his work.

What does he see?

ŒŒMore leaves.ıı

Cliff Radelıs column appears in The Enquirer Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.

Published Nov. 1, 1996.