It has been a while since my last post. I seem to have fallen into the habit of having too much to do and not enough time to get it done. These last three weeks, when I should have been writing one of these every few days, I was instead in some sort of major domestic undertaking. First, we had to gut the entire basement so that the home repair guys could install sump pumps and a de-humidifier. Then spring sprang and I had to get ahead of the yard before it got ahead of me. In between came a business trip – my first out-of-town foray in a year.
Along the way I honed my little supply of power tools. It’s not much when compared to the arsenal your average golf course superintendent has. But then I’m tending only 2.36 acres, not 200. And our standards for grooming are a little slacker than at your average country club. My wife, Jane, prides herself on being an organic gardener. At home that means we have no turfgrass lawn and we avoid bug sprays, inorganic fertilizers or weed killer. We’re all for promoting bees and other pollinators along with bats, birds and as much wildlife as the neighborhood will bear, which happens to be quite a lot.
Over the years I’ve managed to create a walking path around what is a fairly sloped woodlot. Along the way I’ve also cleared once-overgrown areas that are now grounds for a pretty diverse little arboretum, a native wildflower stand, a shade garden and a pond. The basic rule of thumb seems to be that I do the destructive work – digging holes, clearing ground, creating space – and Jane does the growing part.
One thing I have learned here in 19 years of trying to tame our yard. It’s going to win out, eventually; stuff we don’t want will eventually overtake the whole place. It’s the north’s version of kudzu, and so I’m in a war with the elements to roll it back as far as I can for as long as I can. And for that I need help.
Thus the outdoor tools I keep in the garage – though increasingly I’m trying to make room for other things by moving some of that equipment in to a backyard shed. In any case, there it is, hardware accumulated slowly over the years; not as much as I would like but enough to meet our needs here. The Toro 20” mower is ideal for tight places and the Toro 30” deck mower for open areas. Two 16” chainsaws, one a lightweight Echo and the other a heavy-duty Husqvarna, require lots of TLC to stay in operation, not least my carefully separating their fuel sources – 2-cycle engine gasoline and bar & chain oil – from those needed for the 4-cylinder mowers.
The 22” electric hedge trimmer is fine for small work but the gas-powered 24” Echo is a killer when it comes to beating back stands of multiflora rose. The most useful tools in the whole garage are a trio of swing-weighted, matching pick axes – ideal for beating the crap out of recalcitrant tree and bush stumps, and also for digging holes for new trees when the main obstacle down under is a patchwork of crisscrossing roots that have to be severed.
Shoulder surgery two years ago – a right biceps tenotomy – set me back in my gardening athletics but I soon recovered and think of my daily yard stints as exercise, not chores. My orthopedist thinks I’m nuts and should limit my upper body exertion to golf. But what does he know?
Power tools of course, are not toys and have to be respected in terms of safety. I always wear gloves when working, and if there’s a machine involved that also means I don chaps and a helmet with face guard. I never leave the ground if I’m operating a power tool. Never cut above the height of my shoulders. And I make sure no one is around me. And if I’m cutting a tree I never make a notch unless I am certain which way the tree will fall.
There’s something very liberating about yard work. In nearly two decades here we have made quite an impression on the land, having opened up wisteria-choked areas, reclaimed overgrown banks and created a few very interesting garden spots and look outs that did not exist when we moved in. I cannot imagine what it would have been like a century or two ago to have cleared whole farm lots with hand saws. All I know is that over the last year, throughout the pandemic, the chance to go outside and swing a tool and ply a machine to achieve something that was an idea in your head that you have seen and want to create – well, that’s a great feeling.