Saturday morning: somewhere in the 18th century

Due to fungus, bugs, and perhaps the psychological distress of destructive boys invading their ecosystem, we’ve lost several trees. We can’t say which of the above killed the Maple in the back yard, but it joined the ranks of the standing dead a while ago.

Falling limbs have turned this tree into a minor hazard. A branch could fall on one of the kids, but childhood is fraught with risks, so I let that slide. My Edgar Allen Poe tree gave the back yard a Gothic charm, and the kids need to learn to keep their heads up anyway. But when a snagged branch poked me in the temple last time I tried to mow around the trunk, it was the last straw. That menace was about to fall like the House of Usher.

 

The Poe Tree

It’s curtains for you, Edgar.

Our neighbor owns an electric chain saw that she’d borrowed back from us for a few days, since we weren’t using it. In order to determine whether the chainsaw had the horsepower to cut through the trunk, before I went to the trouble of reclaiming it from its owner, I gave the trunk a couple whacks with my ax. (Technically, it’s a splitting maul, but splitting mauls don’t capture the imagination like axes do).

The wood wasn’t so tough, so I gave it a few more whacks. Those few more whacks turned me into Paul Bunyan. The notion of chopping down a tree with an ax captivated me. Why shouldn’t a man chop down a tree with his bare hands instead of waiting until the lady next door gets home so he can borrow her power tools?

An old lumberjacks’ trick: use your rest breaks to take pictures.

I always like to find activities to distract my masculinity before it turns toxic. Chopping down this tree had my masculinity skipping like a child in knee pants. I highly recommend the activity to anyone suffering dangerous levels of manliness.

After some short breaks to catch my breath, because my woodsman skills have been in decline for the past six generations, I toppled the tree with a soul-satisfying crash. I put my ax away and, just like the true pioneers of yesteryear, went inside for a well-deserved Gatorade.

My wife looked up from Netflix. “What happened? We heard a loud crash.”

“You didn’t rush to see if I were hurt?” I asked.

“I sent the little one to look out the window,” she reassured me.

Every strong man needs a good woman.

Seriously, she would have paused her movie if the preschooler’s assessment of my injuries warranted such drastic action.

down and out

Didn’t even hit the house with it.

Having reassured my worried family, I went out to clean up the debris. I thought I might build a log cabin out of my timber, but our frontier Homeowners Association won’t let us put up a 4×4 shed, so they probably wouldn’t approve my sod roof designs.

I cannot tell a lie; there’s a euphoria in going all George Washington on a Cherry (okay, Maple) tree. It’s a stirring experience – makes you want to party like it’s 1799.

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Misinformed tree brings thorns to chainsaw fight

We have this annoying tree near the corner of our house. I think it might be a Hawthorn Tree, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is this tree is trying to take over the world, or at least our back yard, which is a good part of the world to us.

This tree is evil. It runs its woody little finger along the boys’ bedroom window at night to convince them Freddy Krueger is coming for them in the dark. If you attempt to prune it, it will pull a knife on you. Its thorns are three inches long and they are expert at locating any human flesh within reach.

The tree thrives in wet, dry, cold, hot, seasonable, and unseasonable weather. It has been laid on its side by ice and bounced back without a groan. Three other trees in our yard have been killed by disease or insects in recent years. This tree hasn’t so much as sneezed. It laughs at the weakness of the other trees.

Laid on its side by ice, but the ice couldn’t finish the job.

Some believe Hawthorn branches were selected to make Christ’s crown of thorns. I don’t buy this. I think the branches volunteered. Folklore says it’s berries can treat high blood pressure, which is exactly what the rest of the tree will give you when you try to mow around it.

Last Fall, as the tree made its final attempt of the year to mug me, I vowed I would give it a respectable haircut in the spring, before it could conceal its armaments behind a canopy of leaves. Last week, I made good my promise.

With chainsaw, loppers, ladder, and my best helper (Big Man, a.k.a. “I can help you!”), I took the offensive. The tree put up a stiff fight. As I hacked away at the big branch touching the house, there was some question as to which of us would lose a limb to the saw, but the human skill of running from danger prevailed. The fruits of my victory were a lawn full of dismembered, prickly branches and a thorn tip lodged in my thigh.

My best helper sizes up the opponent.

It rained for several days after, and I was still limping a bit, so it took a week for me to get back to the lawn full of downed branches. My best helper was napping at the time, so that probably saved me a good half hour of extra work. The thorns were many, and sharp, even in death. About two hours after the cleanup was done, I pulled the final fragment out of my heel – the last desperate thrust from a defeated foe.

By June I will be kicking myself for not cutting more.

I hope this miscreant tree has been chastised enough to learn its lesson about running amok. It should be mindful that next spring is just one short year away, and next time I might not stop at taking a few limbs, now that I have a taste for blood.

I get by with a little help from my sons

My boys are good helpers. Over the years, they’ve helped me do all sorts of useful things. They’ve helped me pull flowers from the garden so the weeds would have a chance to grow. They’ve helped me shovel snow onto the driveway and sidewalks so everything would look uniformly nice and white, without any ugly gray splotches of bare concrete.

Lately, they’ve begun to help me make breakfast. In this they make themselves especially useful by allowing me to practice my early morning peacekeeping skills when the inevitable fight over who gets to crack the pancake egg breaks out.

I don’t know how I would manage my daily toils without these three most handy boys.

Up until now they have swung into action upon seeing me prepare to undertake some task they know stands beyond my power to complete unaided. “Daddy’s getting out the garden hose? He doesn’t know how to drench himself from head to toe. We’ll show him how to do it.”

This week, Big Man took his helpfulness to higher level. He began helping me with the yard work when I’m not even home. One afternoon, while I was at work, he got a rake and started to be helpful on his own. Daddy spent lots of time raking stuff before the snow; now that the snow is gone, it’s time to rake stuff some more.

Since the lawn did not have much rake-able material on it, it certainly would be good to put some there.

My wife sent me this picture, with the caption, “I’m helping Daddy,” which I don’t doubt is exactly what he told her.

"I'm helping Daddy - whether he likes it or not."

“I’m helping Daddy – whether he likes it or not.”

By the time I got home, he’d gotten Buster involved in the helping.  Together, they’d done a wonderful job of amassing piles of twigs, leaves, and other sundry bits of nature unhealthy to the mower. These piles they raked from under shrubbery and pine trees into the middle of the lawn. Out of the shadows and into the light, I could now fully appreciate this marvelous collection of nature’s discarded bounty. No doubt, I will appreciate them even more at the first lawn mowing of spring.

It was a fantastic surprise to come home to. They were proud of themselves, and in spite of the imminent lawn mower repairs, I am proud of them too. They are becoming responsible young men, in their own roundabout ways.

I didn’t have the heart to tidy the lawn afterward. I’m kind of hoping a big wind will come up and blow all that stuff back under the trees before real spring hits and I have to begin actively maintaining the yard.

Then again, March can be relied upon for one good snow storm. Maybe they’ll throw all that stuff into the driveway when they are shoveling the lawn.

Stuck training the new guy

If you’ve ever had to train a new employee, and the guy was taking a long time to catch on to tasks you could do without a moment’s thought, you might have found yourself thinking the same things as I did the other afternoon.

I was attempting to train a new worker how to use the leaf blower to herd dead leaves into one big pile. There is a profound difference between creating wind and using it to affect some purpose. His insensibility to this, and the resulting random rearrangement of leaves, led me to my first great trainer’s cliché. “It would be so much easier to just do this myself,” I thought.

But that would mean sending my trainee away discouraged. I worked with him on the rudiments of directional leaf blowing. It was a hard sell, which inspired my next trainer’s lament. “This guy has the intellectual capacity of a five-year-old,” I said to myself.

I spent 20 minutes walking sideways with him, shrinking the perimeter of ground covered by leaves. It was probably that I was uncomfortably hunched over the entire time, helping him aim the blower nozzle, that led me to my final nugget of trainer’s wisdom. “I’d be better off trying to teach a first-grader to do this,” I muttered.

This is when I discovered that statements made to relieve frustration (and back pain) lose much of their impact when reality robs them of their comforting hyperbole.

The new employee had the intellect of a five-year-old because he was exactly five years old. It wasn’t my idea to hire him for this work. He volunteered. In fact, he volunteered so vehemently that I’m sure he would have run into the house crying if I’d denied him his training.

Little boys are fascinated by power tools. Combine the necessity of plugging it in to an electrical outlet with the magic of creating wind, and the leaf blower is a kid magnet. Unfortunately, the power of the gods comes with a steep learning curve for a kindergartener.

To his credit, he stuck with the training, and the associated parental scowls, long enough to get the hang of it. When our herd of leaves was under control, I let him go solo.

He even earned a short break for the obligatory leap into the pile.

rewards of hard work

I just hope this doesn’t make him think that after his first day of training at McDonald’s they’ll let him jump into a pile of hamburgers.

But the days grow short this time of year, and there was a large pile of leaves to vacuum and bag. He wanted to take training on this process too, but the machine was a little tall and heavy for him to hold upright. It was clear that his workday was over when he began throwing armfuls of leaves at me and shouting, “Confetti!”

Leaf fort

Makes you wonder how many children get bagged up and carted away with the leaves every year.

In the end, he learned a little bit, and I learned a lot. I have to practice being more patient with my volunteer helpers. As to whether I would be better off trying to train a first grader, well, I guess we’ll find that out next year.