October 18, 2001 11:00 pm

You can feel it in your bones. The wind and rain are becoming more frequent. The temperatures are falling below 32 degrees at night.

Fall is upon us, which means that another phenomenon is beginning to occur in La Grande. The glory of being a tree city is that we also turn into a leaf city.

In the hot days of summer having hundreds and hundreds of trees lining the parkways and the yards of almost every property in La Grande and Island City has its benefits. We have shade to cool things down. Squirrels and birds have a wonderland of places to live and enjoy themselves.

But it also means that every fall there are millions and millions of leaves that drop from those same trees. The summer shade turns into a flurry of falling leaves.

If the leaves would only stay in the yards and on the properties of the owners, then it would be OK. Unfortunately that just doesnt happen here. Unmercifully, the wind pounds throughout the open Grande Ronde Valley with a fury and force that drives the leaves of summertime shade into the yards of neighbors, sometimes a dozen blocks away.

The leaves drop into the streets and onto the sidewalks. As the rain unleashes its fury in late October and November, the leaves turn soggy and create a danger to pedestrians second only to the ice that coats the streets and sidewalks through the winter months.

The leaves cling to our shoes and find their way into our cars, trucks and homes. When coated by moisture, they provide a slippery surface on sidewalks almost unparalleled in danger.

So how do we prevent this menace? Do we cut down every leaf-bearing tree? Of course not.

What we need is the city to enforce the idea that property owners must take responsibility for cleaning up their leaves. That doesnt mean they are to blow them into the next yard or just look the other way, hoping the wind will move them to the next property. It means that the city demand that all tree owners start picking up their leaves within a week of the time they start falling.

What about the vacant lots around town where leaves accumulate? Consider the lot across Penn Avenue from the public library. Even though patrons of the library use the lot as though it were public property, the landlord doesnt live in La Grande. The city should hire university students to clean up the leaves during the next several weeks. They could be bagged and then hauled away by city crews for disposal. The same could be done all across town.

Whether the property is public or private, residents need to clean up leaves and not expect their neighbors to do the job. By keeping our sidewalks, streets and yards leaf-free, we will provide a cleaner, safer community for everyone.