Friday, May 4, 2018

Rites of Spring—Silver Maple

I'm not a procrastinator—not me. A procrastinator is someone who waits until the last possible moment before completing a task. My situation is different: it takes me a long time to decide whether a given project is actually worth doing. This "thinking through" process can take months, and during that time, it probably looks like I'm not doing anything at all. Yet I have found that during this long gestation period many problems conveniently vanish or fade into insignificance, while others turn out to be blessings in disguise.

I will admit, the passage of time more often underscores the fact that a given problem isn't going to disappear. But no one can dispute that there is always a "right time" to get started on something, and it's usually not right now. You have to have plenty of time at your disposal, you need the right tools.

And you need to consider the likelihood that you'll run into insurmountable obstacles half way through, with the water shut off or the back door disassembled. Then what?  

You need to consider whether it might be a good idea just hiring someone else.

For example, I have long pondered how nice it would be to remove the one branch of the silver maple tree in the back yard that blocks the morning sun from reaching the garden. It's about as thick as my thigh, and it's thirty feet off the ground. The main trunk of the tree rises at roughly a 75 degree angle, and more than once I've imagined myself shinnying up that steep incline with a Sven saw over my shoulder to remove the offending limb.

In my heart of hearts, I always knew this was a bad idea, and the likelihood that a strong gust of wind would do the job seemed remote, so this spring, when a local tree trimmer came to the door, I was psychologically prepared to direct him round back and show him the branch.

"Oh, I could get that with my—"and he mentioned some sort of mini-chain saw on a pole that I'd never heard of. "But the blade's pretty dull ... I'd do it for $200."

"That seems a little steep," I replied. (The remark about the dull blade seemed irrelevant, like blowing smoke, as if to say: "Because I neglected to sharpen the saw, it will take longer, and cost YOU more." Come again?)

"But why don't you give me your card," I continued. "Let me think about it and I'll give you a call."

A few days later I got my annual spring email from Rainbow Tree Service, soliciting business. I responded: "I've got branch thirty feet up in my maple. If you could remove it for $100 that would be great!"

The cheery reply wasn't long in coming. "Sorry. Our minimum is $300. Let us know if you're interested."

A week later Maximum Tree Service left a card in the door. I called. "Max can be over tomorrow morning to take a look!".

The next day a thirtyish man who could have passed for a country-western singer rang the bell and introduced himself as Max. "Are you the eponymous Max of Maximum?" I asked.

"That's me."

"Well, I'm honored," I said as I led him through the house and out onto the deck. He had taken off his well-worn cowboy boots, and they looked exotic to me.

"No, I got them at Red Wing," he said.

I showed him the offending branch, high up across the yard, and added, "I'd be happy to chop it up myself." He nodded thoughtfully and said, "I'll do it for $50." Deal.

As he was writing up the invoice he said, "We usually have a minimum, but we have other work in the neighborhood. I'll just send someone around at an idle moment ..."

"Should I write you a check?"

"Na. We'll do the work, then bill you."

I liked the way he wrote up the work order, especially the second part: "Remove limb from maple tree. Leave lay."

Later I began to wonder if he shouldn't have been more specific about which limb was to be removed from which maple tree. But a few days ago Hilary and I returned from a trip to the T-Mobile store in Uptown to find a big tree branch—the right branch—lying incongruously across the back yard.

And just yesterday I nipped off all the minor branches and sawed up the trunk. No need to ponder or delay, that job was easy, and obviously needed doing. It was a bright morning: 55 degrees, cool breeze. White-throated sparrows were singing plaintively in the distance, and my heart was soaring.

On the other hand,  I felt a little bad for the tender leaves that were just budding out on the branches and twigs that were now strewn across the yard or sitting in rough piles, their lives sacrificed to bring a little more sunlight and color to a different set of plants in another part of the garden.

I got over it. But the pile of wood that I eventually stacked under the deck is not impressive, and it makes me think how much space is amply filled, almost everywhere you look,  with small particles of life and energy and motion. 

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