GHENT, N.Y. — The charm of outdoor chores is that you save money by not having to hire someone else to do them for you.
Also, they provide exercise. And you have the satisfaction, often visually but not exclusively so, of a job well done. And they’re socially distanced.
But might one run the risk of going too far, of jeopardizing one’s health in search of savings and aerobic good health? That occurred to me, but not when I recently found myself in the emergency room at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, N.Y. with chest pains — the doctor’s eventual diagnosis was a pulled muscle from excessively exuberant spring raking rather than a coronary event — but several days later. Having taken few lessons from my hospital visit, I was standing in our pond in waders trying to remove a fallen tree. And not a sapling either.
I’d heard what sounded like the thunder of a tree crashing through the forest canopy and when I headed to our pond for a swim later that morning discovered that I’d diagnosed the noise correctly. An old maple, its insides turned to mulch, had keeled over, tumbling across the pond and taking a large limb from a scenic oak on the opposite bank along with it. The situation could have been worse. The location of the calamity, at the bottom of the pond, meant it didn’t interfere with my swim. But it did present a significant eyesore and I detest eyesores, especially on my own property.
There was nothing much I could do to cut down the oak’s damaged limb, now dangling 20 feet in the air. Severing it would probably require a professional tree climber with a chainsaw shackled to his or her harness, or a cherry picker if a cherry picker could even reach the location. But that doesn’t mean I was completely helpless. There was lots of ancillary debris in the pond that I flattered myself I could fish out by myself.
I started by taking a short boat ride to survey the damage and even managed to snag a few logs and limbs as they floated past. That wasn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s remarkable how tipsy a rowboat is when you lean over at all, let alone almost into the water. But I did manage to land some pretty big, effusively leafed boughs and return them to shore. The bad news was that others branches refused to budge, probably because they were still connected to the trunk or pinned beneath its massive bulk.
To find out for sure required donning waders. The waders worked reasonably well until they started taking on water. The fault didn’t lie with a manufacturing defect but with the inflated ambitions that drove me to venture beyond their depth. I don’t know if you’ve ever donned waders? They’re cumbersome in the best of circumstances, but even more so when filled, like a martini glass, to the brim, your body sufficing for a swizzle stick and olives.
The risk of drowning — I’d prudently left my cellphone on shore so couldn’t summon my spouse or the local rescue squad for help — persuaded me to waddle back to the bank where I further tempted fate by trying to leverage some of the larger free-floating parts of the downed tree onto shore. Our dog was nearby but nobody would mistake her for a service animal, let alone Lassie. I could be going under for the third time and she’d happily stay engaged pursuing her favorite watersport, trying to scare up frogs along the shoreline. Besides, she’s not a swimmer.
It was hard to tell just how much of the tree remained submerged, since northeastern pond water aren’t easily mistaken for the crystalline seas of the Caribbean, especially this time of year when it’s coated with pollen and those stringy tassels that fall off oak trees, this spring seemingly more abundant than ever. But I deduced it was quite a lot because my leg got stuck between two monumental limbs. While trying to extricate the appendage I amused myself by wondering how many hours or days it would take my wife to notice I was gone and come looking for me.
Fortunately, I managed to liberate my limb but lesson learned: I had to lower my expectations. I succeeded in removing from the water, if not more than a few inches up the bank, several substantial logs. Sadly, my efforts did noticeably little to improve the pond’s overall appearance.
After I returned to the house, boasting of superpowers, I got in the car and paid a visit to our local Ocean State Job Lot discount store in search of a pair of cheap crocs that I wouldn’t miss if they got sucked under the mud. I’d come to the reluctant conclusion that I’d have to brave the frigid, spring fed waters of the pond if I hoped to reach those taunting leafy branches beyond the depth of my waders.
As if a higher power had heard my plea, the first thing I spotted when I entered the store was their weekly flyer-special watershoes in just my size. But they’re so comfy — I’ve never owned water shoes before considering them kind of sissy — that I’m loathe to suffer the heartbreak of losing them to the pond. They’d be ideal for the rocky beaches of Maine this summer. So I may just have to go barefoot.
Of course, there’s a third option. To review: Option 1 is to call in someone who knows what they’re doing. Option 2 was to do it myself, though I’d never forgive my stupidity if I died trying. Option 3 is the one I suspect the majority of the American population and undoubtedly this publication’s enlightened readership would have chosen as Option 1. Namely, to leave well enough alone.
That’s pretty much where I’m stuck, but only metaphorically, at the moment. I could probably get used to some branches sitting in the water, decomposing with the seasons, if not that cantankerous limb dangling from the oak tree.
My only consolation is that the wildlife seems to be enjoying the revised landscape. My fish — I have three carp — happily swim around and through the submerged debris. And the turtles appreciate the beach that the exposed trunk provides to sunbathe.
Maybe I should learn from them. Not everything needs to be picture perfect. From destruction comes creation, from adversity advantage.
Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner.