Monday, April 15, 2013

When It Is High Time

My wife and I went out to get the yard work done on Saturday. With my bum knee, I’m kind of limited as to what I can do and how long that I can do it. Therefore, chasing the lawnmower is her task. I usually do the edging and trimming and take a few breaks before I get done.

She was outside a little ahead of me. When I stepped out of the garage, I found her with one of the Do-All ladders at the base of the palm tree with a bow saw in her hand. I know how much she hates climbing but I really didn't want to go up the ladder with my bum knee if I could help it. She also has a burning intolerance for palm fronds that have fallen against the trunk of the tree.

When I say that my wife hates climbing, I mean that she is so fearful of heights that she is an incorrigible ladder hugger. She had the ladder set as an A-frame but adjusted to only five-feet of height for ten-feet of reach. I knew that she wasn't going to get her waist level over the top level of that ladder.

She went up two rungs and was able to reach the hanging palm frond with the tip of the bow saw. She couldn't get enough leverage to make the cut with the long reach. Down the ladder she came with the intent of stretching it up higher.

The most that she was going to get was another two feet and, even then; she was going to struggle to reach the hanging frond. Worse, the ladder was on an uneven surface and more likely to kick out when reaching from the additional height. I intervened and showed her how to flip the Do-All ladder into a straight ladder. This put the top of the ladder ten feet up and at even height with the hanging frond and two blossomed seed pods that also needed to be cut down.

The sad thing about people who fear heights is that they trust an A-frame ladder over a straight ladder that is leaned against a structure. The A-frame ladder has four points of contact on the ground. Therefore, it is much more likely than a straight ladder to tip over with a shift in weight at the top.

The straight ladder has only three points of contact. Two are on the ground. The third is on the structure to which it leans. Even with an uneven base the straight ladder is going to settle into three points of contact better than four points on an A-frame.

My wife was trying to get a task done so I certainly give her credit for that. There are just some people that don’t belong on a ladder. I learned to climb ladders as youth when helping my father to paint houses and farm buildings so I know what to expect from them.

She put her weight to the first rung and the ladder shifted to settle into the uneven ground surface. That is quite normal. Had she continued, without fear, the ladder would have held just fine where I had set it to cut the frond and seed blossoms. Instead, she moved the ladder to other side of the tree where the ground was more level. This time she made it up three ladder rungs before coming back down.

Bless her heart. She was trying to get the job done so that I wouldn't climb the ladder. However, watching her on that ladder was a lot like watching a groundhog trying to copy a squirrel running across a power line.

I took the saw and went up the ladder while she threw a fit for fear that I might fall. She tried to steady the ladder for me with a death grip. Then when I came back down I almost tripped off of the ladder because I didn't see her hand in my way.

I had to move the ladder back to where I originally had it in order to cut the two seed blossoms down. When she moved to hold the ladder this time, I chased her away.

“If my 200 lbs falls from this ladder and you’re below then both of us get hurt. What’s the sense to that? Somebody has to be able to call 911.”

She didn't like my logic so asked her another question.

“How much experience do you have in climbing?”

“Not much,” she conceded.

“How much experience do I have?”

“A lot.”

“Okay. I would not attempt to tell you how to hem a pair of pants so don’t tell me how to use a ladder.”

She had heard me tell stories of stepping across ladders 30-40 feet in the air with a paint spray gun while my dad moved the ladders ahead of me from the ground below. We could make much faster time with two painters this way than by having each painter up and down the ladder to move his ladder over.

The next thing I shouldn't have done but I couldn't resist. I finished cutting the seed blossoms down and, while at the top of the ladder, I pulled it away from the tree trunk and shifted it first to the left and then to the right. She had another fit while I grinned down at her.

I don’t have the balance that I did years back or I would have walked the ladder away from the tree like a pair of stilts and tipped it back down to the ground. In addition to my lack of balance, I’m sure that my knee wouldn't have suffered the impact very well. Worse, she might have tried to step in to catch me and we both would have been hurt. Some stupid stunts are better left just talked about.

All in all, I think that it’s normal for two people to depend on the other’s strengths. At the same time it’s good for them to be as interchangeable as possible in case a situation requires it. Then there are some things that just need to be left alone. A shark will never hunt on land and wolf will never learn to scuba dive.

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