I trimmed the trees in front of our house the other day. It took me about three hours to complete the task. I spent two hours sawing off dead limbs and sweeping up. Then I devoted an entire hour to admiring my work.
In my years of attempting to fix things, one of the few skills I have perfected has been the ability to appreciate my own efforts. The admiring glance, the longing look, the adoring gaze are not merely solid members of my home-repair repertoire, they are my specialties.
I've learned that not all projects are equal when it comes to levels of visual satisfaction. Painting large, flat objects, like a porch, for instance, yields much more surface to admire than painting little window frames. And polishing a large table top gives you a whole lot more gleaming wood to appreciate than does varnishing some lowly chair legs.
As for tree-trimming, it delivers its own subtle joys, usually detectable only to the trimmer. There is, for example, the thrill of removing unsightly branches.
This is a little-appreciated pleasure, in part because a branch that you regard as a hideous affront to beauty is often seen by other folks as a mere tree limb, or worse yet, is not even seen at all.
As the philosophers say, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. But as we tree trimmers say, "If the beholder be holding a saw, he rules."
The other morning when I hurried out of the house armed with my tree-trimming tool, I was hunting one particularly offensive-looking limb. I couldn't see it right away. It was on the other side of the tree, the side that faces the street. To examine it, I had to stand out in the street and look up. This wasn't always easy because most of the time the area of the street where I needed to stand was occupied with parked cars.
I had to wait several days for the parking spaces under the tree to clear out. I had started trimming the trees on Saturday afternoon, but because of the parked cars, had to confine my efforts to the branches on the sidewalk side of the tree. On Sunday, the cars that had been parked under the tree on Saturday were gone, but they had been replaced by other cars.
At 9 o'clock Tuesday morning, I glanced out the window and saw that the parking spaces under the tree were finally empty. I immediately made a decision. I was not going to go to the office, instead I was going to get that limb.
Trying to contain my glee, I stood in the street and lifted the tree-trimming tool, essentially a long pole with a saw and snippers on its end, toward the branch. In addition to being ugly, this branch was stubby, and dead.
The saw on the end of the pole drew closer and closer to the dead wood, then it stopped. The tool was too short. It couldn't reach the branch.
I was crestfallen. But I wasn't beaten. I got help from my old friend the stepladder. I put the stepladder out in the street, climbed up a few steps, and soon had that unsightly limb tumbling toward the ground.
Which reminds me, here is a tip for tree trimmers: When standing on a ladder and sawing off a tree limb, do not place the ladder directly underneath the limb. If you do, the branch will come hurtling toward you and present you with the unpleasant choice of either jumping off the ladder and --ing your body on the street, or standing on the ladder and letting the crashing tree limb damage your limbs.
Soon I saw other offending tree parts that needed removing. After I finished with the tree right in front of my house, I spotted dead wood in other trees lining the street. I was in a sawing and snipping frenzy. I got a little carried away.
Which reminds me of another tip for tree trimmers: When sawing off tree limbs that hang over the street, always check the street for oncoming traffic. If you don't, you might saw off a limb that comes perilously close to hitting a passing police car.
Eventually I stopped sawing. There were still limbs that needed trimming, but I couldn't reach them, even standing on the stepladder.
Then I began admiring my work. I looked at the neatly pruned tree from the sidewalk as I swept up the twigs. I looked at it from across the street, noting what a clean cut I had made on that gnarly limb. That night as I drove home from work, I made a special swing by the front of the house to get a street-side vista of the trees.
But as Narcissus, another guy who spent a lot of time outdoors, can testify, there are drawbacks to staring at something too long.
The next morning I walked to the third floor window of my house to get yet another view of my artistry.
It was then that I saw the ugly, naked limb in my otherwise perfect tree. I had missed a spot. And now when I look at the tree, that limb is all I see.