The List: 4 lessons of middle-aged yardwork


1. Wear gloves

When I began to strategize a game plan for yardwork after we moved into our new house in Lindley Park a year ago, I decided to focus on the fundamentals — namely tearing the English ivy off the large deciduous trees framing our property so they wouldn’t die and crash through the roof of our home. I think that was wise, but Year 2 clearly calls for a more aesthetic focus. My wife suggested pulling up the saplings that have proliferated in the yard over the last four years or so. She was so right. Our next-door neighbor is a retired GPD vice cop who’s made it known that he keeps our place under surveillance (much appreciated!), but his attention does make me want to keep the premises on the up and up. The first guideline, which I did not observe this past weekend, should be to wear gloves. After I removed one sapling, I noticed, to my horror, a 4-inch shard of glass that miraculously did not slice open my finger.

2. Beware of boulders

As a country kid, I was a wily operator. Let’s say I had creek smarts. I was pretty savvy at hopping across precariously perched stones to traverse a rushing stream, and diving underwater to trap bluegill against rocks with my bare hands. I managed somehow to avoid twisting my ankle, getting washed downstream or putting my hand in a snake’s mouth. I still have the same confidence, but as a fortysomething urbanite, my wits are not what they used to be. One of the saplings slated for removal was growing next to a large stone that was about three feet across and a good 18 inches thick, while being secured by a thick network of ivy. I started feverishly yanking ivy off and once the stone was freed it came loose much more easily than I anticipated. One end fell against my shin and as I pulled back the other end landed on the big toe of the same leg. Luckily for me, the extent of my injuries was a couple scratches on my leg, and my toe didn’t even turn purple. I’m terrified of sustaining any injuries that might result in addiction to prescription painkillers, and I’ll certainly be a lot more careful in the future.

3. Don’t use a broken shovel

Last summer, I cracked the handle of a new shovel purchased at Lowe’s while removing an ornery shrub at my wife’s request. Even with the handle cracked three quarters through, I found the shovel pretty handy for removing saplings. Usually, with a good, diagonal thrust into the side of the taproot and some vigorous wiggling of the blade, a hard yank would remove the plant, root and all. As I attempted to work the shovel back and forth while pulling the tree, I found my hand grazing the jagged edge of the cracked handle. Looking back on it, I don’t quite understand why I didn’t wind up with a nasty splinter in my index finger.

4. Protect yourself from poison ivy

The pernicious three-leaf poison ivy must be eradicated at all costs. I pulled a good-sized batch out this weekend. I took some precautions, using a rubber glove and washing my hands and arms with hot, soapy water after finishing my work. But I have to admit that I also used my exposed right hand for additional grip, and I didn’t wear a long-sleeve shirt; as a result, some leaves brushed my forearm. I must have developed an immunity to the stuff, or else the soap and water did the job. In any case, my arms and hands are mercifully free of rashes and inflammations. The lesson in all of this is clearly that no one should follow my example.