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.

You work for me now

My wife is utterly devoted to our children. She does whatever it takes to see to it that their young lives are full and happy. This is a wonderful thing to see, and it warms my heart. It also makes it such a shame that this is the woman with whom I have to compete in the ruthless tug-of-war for “me” time.

I could go on and on about how deserving my wife is of every moment of “me” time she can grab, but this is, after all, a competition.

I first truly realized how much a competition it is when she explained to me that I got my “me” time when I went to work. I get eight hours a day all to myself, with no needy, helpless, little people to distract or make unreasonable demands upon me. That’s the way she sees it, anyhow.

Way back in the years before children (B.C.), I used to spend some of my numerous idle hours brewing beer. It now seems like that was decades and decades ago.

It is too bad that I can’t mow the lawn from work, because that is the sort of thing I do with the rare snippets of “me” time I find these days. In fact, my “me” time belongs almost completely to our homeowners association. It is devoted to some sort of mowing or trimming, necessary to keep our property’s appearance at or near the minimum acceptable standard. I begin to feel like an indentured servant.

I would like all of our concerned neighbors to know that our grass is not long because I am inside playing video games. I am trying to get out to tend to the lawn, but I am being hindered by certain burdens. There is a 110 lb. woman draped over my shoulders, a three-year-old with his arms locked around my ankles, and a newborn hanging by his gums from my earlobe.

The woman is on my back because her schedules show that my “me” time ended when I took off my necktie. The boy is wrapped around my legs because there is no way I am going out to play with a loud, dangerous piece of machinery without him underfoot the entire time. The baby merely figures that, if he clamps down hard enough, long enough, he is bound to coax some milk out of this weird nipple at the side of my head.

On Wednesday evenings, my wife takes the boys to her moms’ group. The anticipation with which I look forward to this is shameful. It is my opportunity to enjoy mowing the lawn without distraction. Mowing the lawn doesn’t require inordinate concentration; you walk around a rectangle with an ever-shortening perimeter. Yet, it is very easy to mow Lucky Charms shapes into your lawn when you are constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure your little helper doesn’t follow the neighborhood cat into the street and wherever else a cat-about-town needs to be on a spring evening.

There were days, long ago, when I would have spent time playing computer games, or frittered it away on those wasteful activities known as hobbies. Not anymore. Now, if I find a moment that is not owed to my sons, my wife, or my fellow homeowners, I try to work in a little reading or writing. You are enduring one of the fruits of my “me” time even now. It’s more a dried prune than a plump, juicy watermelon, but you harvest what you can in these precious moments.

This is one of my more recent hobbies. It's really difficult to do this and write a blog post at the same time, but it can be done - just not very well.

It turns out that I don’t miss computer games, home brewing, or any of my former, solitary activities all that much. My sons are much more rewarding. They are more fun than any of my erstwhile hobbies, which is fortunate because they own me. It would be nice if I could just find a little more opportunity to read and write, but I guess I’ll have to arm wrestle my wife for that.