A labor of leaves

Yale groundskeepers work diligently for several weeks each fall to clean up fallen leaves.
Yale groundskeepers work diligently for several weeks each fall to clean up fallen leaves. Photo by Roy Lee.

Every fall, students are greeted in the morning with the blaring of leaf blowers or the trucks that pick up and grind the fallen leaves.

The multicolored spectacle of fall is as important to New England’s identity as clam chowder. But controlling the accumulation of leaves in Yale’s courtyards can become a labor-intensive task for the grounds and maintenance staff, which works to keep the leaves that fall on Old Campus and the residential college courtyards from building up in unseemly piles.

When leaves begin falling, groundskeepers blow and rake them into piles away from the walkways, Eric Uscinski, the director of facilities operations, said. Trucks equipped with special vacuum tubes drive around the college courtyards to pick up the piles, as the two groundskeepers assigned to each truck try to rake the leaves into the vacuum tube. Mulching mowers on the back of the trucks then chop up the vacuumed leaves, Uscinski said.

Groundskeepers begin to pick up the leaves early on in the season to prevent the leaves in the courtyards from piling up and clogging the drains — and “for aesthetic purposes,” Uscinski said. In the weeks when leaves fall, trucks come around at least once a week to each of the campus’s lawns to remove the piles from the courtyards.

The process takes two to four weeks every fall, depending on how quickly the fall progresses and how early snow falls, Uscinski said.

For the groundskeepers responsible for gathering Yale’s fallen foliage, the job sometimes comes with surprises.

When groundskeeper Mary Jackson was recently removing leaves from Old Campus, her truck came upon what she thought was a moving pile of leaves. She moved in closer to investigate and discovered three students playing in the leaves, according to her coworker Warren Sauer.

“Had she not investigated the moving pile, three people would have been squashed,” Sauer said.

One freshman planned to have her roommate’s screw date jump out of a pile of leaves, so she approached a groundskeeper to ask that he leave a pile, the groundskeeper, who would identify himself only as Mike, said. Though his schedule was unable to accommodate her request, she raked her own pile of leaves in time for screw, he said.

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