Going out on a limb for tree bags

March 03, 2001|By Rob Kasper

I LIFT MY eyes toward the heavens and I see tree bags, dozens of plastic bags snagged in the branches. The bags flap in the stiff March winds, taunting me.

There are, I am told, people who do not notice tree bags, people who lead exciting, interesting lives, people whose gaze is fixed on bright stars twinkling on the horizon. I am not one of those people. Wherever life takes me, I seem to see tattered bits of plastic flapping in the wind.

I feel a compelling need to remove snagged bags from the landscape. Some people aspire to climb every mountain; I want to de-bag every tree.

The bags are unsightly. And at the risk of engaging in too much "tree talk," I will say that impaled bags ruin the line and look of the bare, naked branches. (One indication of how long a winter it has been is that I have been casting admiring glances at tree branches.)

For a time this winter I tried to think of these bags in a more accepting, less hostile light. I tried to view them as impromptu urban art. I tried to think of them as the unofficial flag of the City of Baltimore. In their airy movements I tried to see the cycle of life. When they are young they dance on the rooftops, float through life and aspire to great heights. Eventually they come back to Earth, are snagged and slowly wither in the wind.

I tried thinking of tree bags like that, but it didn't help. I still wanted to attack them. But before going on the warpath, I called Steve Young and got some advice from a veteran hunter.

Every winter for the past six years, Young and neighbor Clint Roby go on the prowl in the East Baltimore neighborhood of Butcher's Hill, snaring bags. They use as a de-bagging tool a long, telescoping metal pole fitted with a clamp that holds a razor-sharp utility blade. They have developed names for some of their various bag removal techniques. For instance, Young said, there is "the spaghetti twirl" in which you repeatedly twist the pole until its tip gets a firm hold on the treed bag.

Then, he said, there is the "push-up" technique, in which the tip of the pole lifts the bag up and off the branches. The push-up usually works well on recent arrivals or, as Young called them, "fresh bags."

The artful de-bagger, Young told me, is careful to slice only the bag, not the tree trunk. Moreover, he watches where he steps because dogs, as well as plastic bags, are fond of visiting trees. The artful de-bagger is also careful where he puts his pole, Young said, referring to the dangerous outcome of having a metal tool come in contact with a power line.

Finally, Young said, the artful de-bagger carefully plots his appointed rounds, making sure that when his work is done, he ends up near a friendly neighborhood establishment, a place where he can rest his pole against a wall, a place where he can display the "trophies" - inner tubes, shoes and "whoppers" (the big black trash bags), a place where the weary, dehydrated de-baggers can take in fluids.

"Clint and I usually end up at Simon's Pub or Birds of a Feather" for post-hunt refreshments, Young reported. Young warned me that there would be bags that, like the sweetest apple at the top of the tree, will appear to be outside your grasp. When pursuing such lofty bags, Young suggested using the upstairs ruse.

"If you know the people who live near the tree, try to get inside and work through an upstairs window," he said.

Recently, Young told me, he de-bagged a tree while working from the roof of his three-story rowhouse. But roof work, he warned, is not for the novice.

So, armed with these tips, I am headed to a hardware store to get one of those long, telescoping poles. In prior years I had been going after bags with an ordinary, limited-range, tree-trimming tool. I can't wait to rid tree bags, especially those two right across the street from me, from my view of the world. March is, as Young reminded me, high de-bagging season.

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