The Trees and the Gutter
I avoid lots of things, but none is more visible to the rest of the world (or at least my neighbors here on Pleasant Hill) than my avoidance of cleaning gutters. To put this into perspective, I have 3 towering white pine trees very close to the house. Close enough that they attract the attention of every male between the ages of 18 and about 32 in possession of a pick-up truck and a chainsaw. I’ve met so many of these hopeful entrepreneurs over the years. They knock on my front door with authority and enthusiasm, ready to take care of my tree problem for me. Each one is clearly perplexed when I send them away. It’s no use explaining that there is no ductwork in the house, no furnace, and no central air, so I depend on the shade of these pines to keep the second floor cool in the summer. And in the winter, they keep the wind from blowing completely through the house, giving my pellet stove a fighting chance at keeping the place cozy.
So, I have three towering white pines very close to the house. And on a regular basis they rain long clusters of pine needles down upon my roof. About this time every year, there’s a thick carpet of needles on the front stoop, hung up in the boughs of the rhododendron thicket across the front of the house, and, of course, on the roof. The roof-bound needles are only resting briefly on the shingles as their intended destination is the gutters, which fill to overflowing almost overnight.
To keep things tidy and to keep the water flowing from my steep roof to the PVC pipes tucked under the driveway, I really should clean the gutters out once a month during needle season. But I don’t. I let them lie. And I let them build up until there are, ahem, weeds, small trees, and the occasional blackberry bramble spilling out of the gutters. Most days from mid-summer through early winter, I advert my eyes and refuse to glance up toward the roof, but I know those gutters are sporting a hanging garden and West Virginia just ain’t Babylon.
So, as I was clearing the gutters this week on a beautiful and unseasonably warm late October day, I considered why it was that I avoided the chore. Now, to put the magnitude of the job into perspective, I have only two gutters. One on the front of the house and one on the back. Each is about 35’ long and a straight shot. Every inch of the one on the back is easily accessible via the deck that spans the back of the house. I can easily clean it from my lightweight “paint the upstairs bathroom” ladder. About a third of the front gutter is also accessible using the same ladder, which I can tote around with one hand and set up on the concrete front stoop in the middle of the house. The rest of the front gutter is a little trickier. I have to haul the super heavy Gorilla Ladder out of the basement to tackle the two ends of that one. And this is West Virginia. The Mountain State. The ground here is rarely level, so balancing can be an issue and I’ve had enough shims slide out from under ladder legs that I rarely use them anymore. But it’s really not that big a deal, I just have to pay attention to what I’m doing.
A Need to Focus
Nothing at all hard here, but why do I avoid this job? Up on the ladder the other day, I considered that question. And do you know what I realized? My revelation of the day? Up on the ladder I needed to concentrate. I needed to live only in the moment. Balance my weight to keep the ladder firm, don’t over-reach, move slowly, move deliberately, watch where I’m dumping the wet, organic mats that form in the bottoms of gutters that are cleaned only rarely. I had to 100% commit to the job in front of me. No cellphone in my pocket. No thoughts about my business or running of a grocery list in my head. While cleaning gutters, only clean gutters or you are off the ladder and unexpectedly on the ground. Wax on, wax off…a moving meditation. Totally different than how I do most things, including yard chores and cleaning the house. I’m a whirlwind of “all over the place”…doing 10% of one job, then dropping it, doing 20% of another, then dropping it, 5% of a third, and back to the first job, only to zip over to a fourth. It’s exhausting and I don’t enjoy any of the tasks because I never relax into them. I need a meditation or some yoga to recover from days that feel very much like a fast-paced game of racquetball.
But I Might Miss Something!!
Now, at this point, I could say that I’m still recovering from Corporate America where gnat-like attention and the ability to “multi-task” (code for doing 6 things at once really, really poorly) are king and queen of the realm. But that’s not quite it. The real issue is that I’m actually afraid I’m going to miss something if I commit so fully to any job that I get into a zone. Yes, I’m doing this to myself. I’m not sure when or how that happened. Who doesn’t want to drop into the zone, a walking meditation where you can become the observer of your actions and think amazing thoughts, do amazing things? As an athlete, I lived for the zone and when I got out of my own way and “caught a wave”, I invariably heard gasps and cheers from onlookers who couldn’t believe they just saw me do what they just saw me do.
Are you now thinking “just what does this have to do with butterfly gardening”? Nothing and everything is the answer to that. Nothing because I have not mentioned a single thing you can do to encourage butterflies in your yard. Everything because this blog just underwent a butterfly-like metamorphosis. It’s time for me to drop into the zone and write about whatever calls to me. It might be pollinators, it might be butterflies, it might be an art project, a photography excursion, the threat of the “sixth extinction”, sustainable vegetable gardening, or a rumination about gutters. When I’m out of my way and in the flow, who knows where this might go?
If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, be part of my flow and whisper it in my ear via the comment form below.
I create mandala art from single photos that I take of the natural world. In 2010, I had the honor to visit Glacier National Park in Montana for a second time. It was late in the season and the water coming through Avalanche Gorge along the Trail of the Cedars wasn’t in a rush as it was when I visited the previous year at the peak of snow melt.
The sparkling aqua waters wending their way through the gorge, taking their time with no mind toward anything but moving through the gorge, epitomizes the concept of being in the flow. I created my Cold Waters mandala from this single photo that I took of sunlight dancing on the clear and impossibly blue waters of Avalanche Gorge. This piece holds the energy of the place…a reminder of the timeless flow of the current.