Spring Projects and the Zealous Handyman

Young man in a treeMy eyes widened in disbelief.

My heart stopped, and my hand slid over my mouth automatically. I could almost feel the liability issues crushing me in a vise-like grip, along with our handyman’s mangled body.

Fortunately, this scenario played out in my mind only, but the horror of the thought was enough.

Spring has sprung, and so has my overly energetic calendar of home improvement projects. Last year, a friend of mine referred a resourceful, experienced and responsible handyman. I was delighted, and my home improvement cup ranneth over. I have used him for several projects, and he is reasonably priced, dependable, quick and honest.

But he does it on the side, and is not insured or bonded.  A minor detail I waved off with a flap of my hand when he was referred to me.

“Not bonded or insured?” I said with a roll of my eyes. “Not a problem. There’s nothing major we’ll put him to work on where he could get hurt. It’ll be okay.” So enraptured was I with the whole cheap-honest-quick-experienced description. I snapped him up and booked him immediately.

Last week we coordinated a fence project. We have a great (but ancient) split rail fence and many of the rails needed replacing. I figured he wouldhandyman 3 finish this project quickly, and what the heck, while he was in the backyard, he could look at and decide when he might take down a part of the dying river birch as well.


A half day into the fence project, I glance outside to check his progress, and lo and behold, he’s wielding the chainsaw like a crazed maniac on the 60-foot tall tree. Alone. No ropes.

Fortunately, my husband was home that day, and I screamed at him something like this:


handyman 1My husband, who was reclined in the den watching sports, turned his head toward me slightly and furrowed his brow.

“What?” he responded, unwilling to move unless he absolutely had to. Obviously I had not communicated the severity of the situation. So I tried again, louder.

“OUTSIDE! LOOK OUTSIDE!” I pointed a quivering finger toward the backyard. He sighed, popped the recliner up, and heaved himself to his full height of 6’3″. His reluctance was communicated with each movement.


He glanced casually at our handyman, who was still buzzing away at the tree. He shrugged.

“He knows what he’s doing. Besides, he’ll cut it so it’ll fall in the right direction. He’s okay.”

By now my heart had slowed a little. Since he was not concerned, I thought well, maybe he’s right. Maybe I am over-reacting. So I forced myself to drop it, and went to do something else. After a little while, I heard a huge WHAR-UMPHH followed by a smaller whar-umphh or two. My heart dropped to my knees. I ran to the window.

My husband had apparently decided he’d needed to get involved after all, and was walking back up the hill toward the house, shaking his head. At thehandyman 4 bottom of our backyard, lay two perfectly healthy, new split rails in pieces, where part of the dead tree had fallen and broken them. A large part of the dead tree lay in our neighbor’s yard and the rest of it, thank goodness, lay in ours.

I took in the scenario quickly, and glared at my husband as he entered the house. He understood the glare perfectly. It said Did I ask you to help? Didn’t I just want you to stop him until he had a better plan? What the heck happened?”

Knowing all this was zipping through my brain, he replied defensively, “It wasn’t my fault! He couldn’t have held the tree limb either! It was just too heavy to push in the direction he told me to!”

Then he mumbled similar things to himself and anyone who would listen the rest of the afternoon. I decided to drop my irritation and be very happy no one had gotten hurt. Later he told me our handyman had asked him to take over the chainsaw part at the bottom and he would leap up into the tree and push the dead limbs in the proper direction. My husband quickly volunteered to do the leaping up in the tree part, visualizing, I’m sure, severed limbs and several thousand pounds of tree on top of him if he tried to wield the chainsaw.

Obviously the leaping up into the tree and pushing the dead half of the tree in the right direction did not work out. But both the handyman and my husband were uninjured, so thank God for that.

I still don’t know what bothers me more: that I nagged my husband to get involved with a project he probably shouldn’t have, or that the handyman unwisely chose to begin a job that was more than he bargained for. If I’d kept my mouth shut and assumed the handyman knew what he was doing, would it have turned out better? Should I have hired a tree service instead of asking the handyman to take out half of the tree?


handyman 5Afterward, the handyman mentioned to me that he would hate it if he got injured on my property, then he gave me a sorrowful look. Well, now I understand why that bonded and insured thing is particularly important.

The handyman, no matter how many things he knows how to do, will only be working on less injury-prone projects from now on, or maybe none.  And no matter what, I will not demand my husband get involved.

Spring has sprung alright, but my home improvement initiative has been dealt a crushing blow. Maybe I’ll just focus on planting flowers.

And Then the Dogwood Bloomed

Armed with a lopper in one hand, and an axe in the other, I strode purposefully toward the part of our property where trees were being strangled by thick, snake-like vines. I informed the trees that they were about to be set free, and started hacking at every evil vine in sight.

I realized in short order that the monster vines were pretty much connected and that I needed to find the roots. This took a bit of doing, as the debris and dead limbs and weeds seemed to enjoy thwarting my forward motion. Some of the vines must have inched up the trees undisturbed for twenty years! Not being particularly well-versed in axe-dom, I yelled for my husband, who was busy doing a little hacking of his own on another part of the property. He shouldered his swing blade, and walked in my direction.

We bought our house about a year ago, and hilariously – or deviously, depending on whose point of view you agree with – we did not know we were about to buy adjoining property until we arrived at the closing table. Our house sits on approximately 2/3 of an acre that is developed, landscaped, and lovely. It is surrounded by Maryland-style split rail fencing and set back from the street, which we like. The setting is what sold my husband and me on the house, and we thought the adjoining property was an easement. A green space. We were encouraged to think along these lines by our realtor, who (we think, anyway) chose NOT to tell us that the peripheral 2/3 acre of brush-infested, uncleared, designated wetland was part of the deal.

At the closing table, which included our finance guy, our realtor, the seller’s realtor, my husband and I and various and sundry other people that I cannot remember because Maryland always overdoes everything (litigious concerns); we finally got a look at the actual survey report. Surprise! We are buying twice the property we thought! My husband and I blinked at each other rapidly, and mutually figured this must be a really good deal even though we were kept in the dark about the actual lot size. Maybe our realtor assumed we knew. Maybe we didn’t ask. Doesn’t matter.

Realtors and financiers poised to make a great deal of money are especially cheery and chatty around a closing table; and the seller’s agent – sensing the end of a long and arduous property listing – threw sensitivity to the wind, and began telling funny stories about showing the house before we came along. It seems quite a few house-lookers were not especially enthusiastic about the undeveloped property. Even less enthusiastic when he told them about the resident fox, groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits and deer that were regular inhabitants. He had initially thought these little details would endear the property to prospective homebuyers. Instead, it made them run like scalded dogs. After listing the house a year, with no qualified offers, he determined he would not tell people about the adjoining property, as it seemed to scare them off. Jim and I looked at each other and thought, what have we done? We excused ourselves for a quick conference. We emerged the owners of an acre and a half, part of which promised to be a good bit of work.

Which brings me back to the hacking part.

My husband takes the axe from my hands, and, as is typical of him, says “Watch this!” Somewhere along the way, he really had learned how to wield an axe, so I am duly impressed, and murmur complimentary wife-remarks. After a few well-placed hacks, the root is obliterated. We tug and pull and several tentacles reluctantly slither from the trees. I was amazed at how far-reaching the vines were. Many trees were near death, and I discovered a struggling dogwood beneath a maze of vines that I had never seen before. We worked all afternoon and liberated several trees. I will feel oddly elated if they thrive.

My 21-year old son, who usually avoids yard work with zealous fervor, joins my husband with no prompting for hacking and swing blade activities. I understand the lure. There is something primal and satisfying about killing an evil thing that is trying to kill a good thing. I know I am over-dramatizing here, but allow me a little creative license. There will be a point, I promise.

My son during his early burning stage.

I believe now, that to buy the house was a good, firm decision; and that the forested parcel was a blessing in disguise. To watch the progress in beating back the wilderness has surely been similar to what my forebears felt most days, which has been an interesting perspective. I have seen a side of my husband that I did not even know existed, and it has given me fresh respect for him. My son, the ultimate preppie, is turning into an axe-wielding, glove-wearing, vine-killing machine. The controlled burns my husband and son perform to get rid of the brush and dead limbs have ceased to strike terror into my soul, and I now enjoy them.

I think I am becoming a country girl, or maybe I always was. Reclaiming the land is invigorating.

It is the desecrating of the evil roots that gives me the most pleasure. Setting an axe to the root of a twenty-year old vine, especially poison ivy, makes me want to dance. Sometimes I chant to the tree, “You are free! You are free!” and yell “Mwaa…hahahaha…take THAT!” to the vines I pull off cringing, abused trees.

So here is my promised point:

My hope and prayer is to pull every evil, tentacled, snakelike vine off my soul.

Every one.

With God’s help, I do not want to leave them unattended for twenty or thirty years . I do not want the grip of bad habits, character defects, addictions, or snarled relationships to choke out my life. I refuse to be bent and helpless under their weight. I do not want evil vines to curl around my heart in deadly embrace, rendering it unrecognizable and still beneath a mountain of debris I have not swept from my life due to ignorance, lethargy or laziness. I want to pro-actively assess the damage, utilize the appropriate tool (in this case, a sword*), and obliterate evil at the root so it will never again have the power to destroy.

Our realtor probably did us a big favor by not mentioning that the green space was part of our property. It would have been a tragedy, I think, if we had decided not to buy.

Next spring, we should see new life sprout from the trees that we rescued from the vines.

I bet the dogwood blooms.

*And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17, New American Standard Bible

The sword was an essential part of the armor of an ancient soldier. His other weapons were the bow, the spear, or the battle-axe. But, without a sword, no soldier would have regarded himself as well armed. The ancient sword was short, and usually two-edged, and resembled very much a dagger.

Of the Spirit – Which the Holy Spirit furnishes; the truth which he has revealed.

Which is the word of God – What God has spoken – his truth and promises. It was with this weapon that the Savior met the tempter (Satan) in the wilderness; Matthew 4. It is only by this that Satan can now be met. Error and falsehood will not turn aside temptation; nor can we hope for victory, unless we are armed with truth.
From Biblos.com