The noise

Author’s note – I’m sorry, today no photos, just a story about an idiot gardener and the hazards of procrastination.

For two days the winds howled, until I could take it no longer. I was off from work for a few days with nothing to do except laze about the house. It was warm a few days earlier, but temperatures dropped to be too unpleasant to do anything more than what was absolutely necessary outdoors for the days I was at home. I went out to pick up the newspaper in the morning, and then read it front to back without ever thinking about taking another step outside. Except for the noise.

Just outside the front door I planted a wide spreading ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple twenty years ago, or so. It is too close to the house, which I realized when I planted it, but the plan was for it to grow tall enough that it could be limbed up so that you walk under it going from the driveway to the front entrance. A second maple is planted at the corner of the house where the walk meets the drive, and it is also too close to the house. For a few years after planting the Japanese maples obstructed the front walk, but then they grew tall enough, the lower branches were removed, and the effect is just as grand as I imagined.

Some annual maintenance is required to remove growth that dangles too low over the walk, and the maples perpetually drop dead twigs onto the walk, but otherwise the planting has been mostly successful. Of course, the trees are planted too close to the house, and this involves some routine pruning for branches that head in the direction of the house, but mostly the trees grow towards light and away from the house, so this isn’t too much of a bother. Until the recent windy days.

Fortunately, I can sleep through anything. My wife complained about squirrels in the attic a few years before I ever heard them, and I kept busy in other areas and didn’t hear the screeching of the branches against the house until the second day. My wife had mentioned the noise to me the first morning, and she had complained about the branches scrapping against the house in the past, but it was never much that I noticed. The first windy night she moved to the back bedroom to be further from the racket, and finally, on the second day as I settled into a quiet day reading the news, I noticed.

The sound is similar to fingernails scratching along a blackboard, which is probably out of fashion nowadays with white boards, but in my school days was a surefire way to annoy anyone and everyone. With this experience I can tolerate the sound, but not over and over for hours and hours. So, I decided to undertake the chore that my wife had asked me to take care of  a handful of times over the past few years (at least). I suppose that it’s alright to annoy her for a few years, but me, a few hours is unacceptable and the problem must be taken care of.

The proper tool to prune branches that are at least fifteen feet up (and rubbing against the house) is a pole pruner, which is a long handled contraption with a bypass pruner at the end. The handle extends to almost double its length, and a rope is attached to pull to trigger the mechanism to cut the branches. The pole is about seven feet in length, and extended it is almost fourteen, so a six foot man can reach a branch nearly twenty feet off the ground without too much of a struggle. Except when the wind is howling, the temperature is eighteen degrees, and the fool running this rig refuses to wear a jacket or gloves.

This was not a pretty sight. I’m waving the long handled pruners trying to snare the offending branches that are swaying in the breeze while my hands are quickly becoming numb. I’ve been known to dress inappropriately for long periods in the cold, but this side of the house is shaded, and windy, and cold, and I was quickly regretting my decision to undertake this project at all. In any case, despite these issues, one branch was pruned and another, and I figured this would do the trick and let me get inside before I freeze to death.

After a few moments inside, there it is again. I accomplished nothing, so back out again. You might figure that by now I’ve learned my lesson and the second time I will dress properly for the cold, but that tells me that you don’t know me very well. There can’t be more than another branch to cut, which can only take a few moments, so I’m outside again before my hands have thawed from the first go round. This time I got the offending branch, and no permanent damage was done. The fingers still work, and I went back to the newspaper. Later, after retrieving the mail (again without a jacket) there were a few stories in a gardening magazine that got me to thinking about hellebores and winter hazels, and soon we’ll be rid of this dreadful cold. A splendid way to spend a winter’s afternoon, and thank goodness the noise was gone.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jennifer Story says:

    A lovely story, thanks! I think we can all identify withthe trials of dealingwith this suddenly cold (though appropriate) weather interrupting our unseasonably warm winter, which we have grown accustomed to of late. (I’m in Berwyn Hts., MD, about 10 miles outside of DC.)

  2. James says:

    You must have been listening to discussions between my wife and me. Our Japanese maple, same as yours, is planted where the sidewalk meets the driveway, and two low limbs have grown to interfere with driving and walking. Time to lop them off, though they’re only about four feet off the ground. Just high enough to whap the unsuspecting visitor on our sidewalk. Thanks to your inspiration, I’ll be carefully removing those two while it’s still cold and the tree is “dormant.” I assume removal of two limbs (each about 3/4 inch at the collar) will do no great harm to our Japanese maple.

  3. Dave says:

    Though this was not my consideration, the coldest of winter is the most appropriate time to prune a maple, when the tree is completely dormant. In an emergency (impending madness in this instance) little harm is done by pruning at any time, and Japanese maples are particularly vigorous, so no harm is done in removing the branches.

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