Things that go bump in the night

I’m going to betray a tree that has provided me with beauty and shade for the 21 years I’ve been in this house. The tree is a Ponderosa Pine that stands ten feet from my back bedroom. Fifteen years ago, an ice storm sent limbs crashing from that tree like artillery shells. For three days, I slept at the other end of the house while Peggy remained in the very bedroom that was most likely to be hit (this is the same woman who worries that airplanes will fall on her). After the ice melted, I told her that there was no way I was going to pass another winter wondering if an evergreen limb four inches in diameter was going to impale us in our bed. She objected strenuously to my pruning proposal, but I used her old mountain climbing gear to get myself to the top of that 80-foot tree, and I pruned it anyway (I’m a woos about crossing Peggy, so this constituted a rare act of defiance). I thought the tree might die from such a severe pruning, but it didn’t even slow down, so last summer, I had to do the same thing again. The tree still looks healthy, but it’s none too pretty, what with most of one side and twenty feet of its top gone—and even after all that, there’s still the possibility that it might heave our foundation.

So, I’m going to have an arborist give me one estimate for cutting the whole thing down and another estimate based upon me cutting the limbs and him cutting the trunk. Ten years ago, I would have rented a chainsaw with a long bar and done the job myself, but given how bad a shape I’m in anymore, even the limbs—which will have to be cut into sections and lowered with ropes—are more than prudence dictates that I tackle, although I probably will.

I’m not doing well with my ever-worsening health situation, but I must say that I’ve gotten enormous comfort over the years by reflecting upon other people’s misery. Based upon my own experiences and what I’ve read, I’ve learned two things about chronic pain: there’s often very little that doctors can do to alleviate it; and the only limit to how much pain a person can experience is determined by the point at which he passes out, and even then he has to wake up again. I’ve read about people whom, if I were them, and had I been able to use a gun on myself, I would have run to that gun. I draw two conclusions from such somber reflections. One is that I’m lucky compared to how bad off I could be. The second is that to truly allow the knowledge of such pain into my heart has made life seem a lot more serious. When I was young, I pretended that life was simply a game that I would someday tire of, and then go back to my real existence; but, no, our lives are as real—and sometimes as horrific—as when a leopard crushes the windpipe of an impala.

One of the things I miss most is the ability to believe that I will ever again be strong and healthy. Life just seems too damn sad most of the time, and what joy I find comes in little pieces, and most of them when I’m writing (I write far more than I share) or spending time with Peggy. I figure that as long as I have her, I can put up with almost anything. I’m 62, and I’ve never been alone or even wanted to be alone. In three months, she and I will have been married forty years—we met in August and were married that December. Scores of people have passed through my life since I met Peggy, but somehow she has remained.

Just as I finished this, a blogger who is surely a lot tougher than I posted her own update ( It will give you a taste of the kind of cold comfort that I get from other people’s suffering. Bloggers like Carmon almost make me ashamed to complain at all. Yet, I can’t find the strength to bear my lot in silence, and besides, my greatest supporters have often been those who were worse off than I.


KC said...

We had a guy take out an Austrian Pine about the size you write about. He started at the bottom and cut the limbs off leaving about 2 feet from the trunk on one side. He used these limb stumps as a ladder to the top. When he got to the top he started cutting the trunk in small chunks away from himself and let them fall to the ground. He continued down using the limb ladder until he was near the bottom. His method really worked well and could be done a little at a time as your power and energy allowed.
Sorry you are still in so much pain.

Marion said...

Snow, you old daredevil, you!! I can just see you up in that Pine tree...

I hear you about the pain. I, too, suffer from occasional shame because so many people are so much worse off than I am. But pain is pain. I'm happy to hear that writing gives you happiness. That's a very good thing. It does me, too. Well, that and reading as long as I'm in my recliner reclining...

My pain doctor got a new PA and she's a total arrogant bitch. Sigh. It's always something. She acted like she was a Harvard educated doctor and I had to tell her a thing or two. It's criminal what some of us have to go through for a little bit of relief from chronic pain.

You are indeed lucky to have Peggy. My husband and I were married 39 years yesterday. My how time flies....xoxo

Beau's Mom said...

As I was reading your post several thoughts popped into my head. One is the memory of having five 80 foot pine trees cut down in my yard 40 years ago. It cost $180 and - at that time - I thought we were being robbed.

Second, the light that suddenly poured through the house showed me how dark we had been also showed me all the dust and dirty walls that hadn't been visible until the sunlight streamed in through the windows.

Regarding our age and illness: I know that I will never "bounce back" from an illness or surgery like I used to. Whatever comes my way at this stage will have an everlasting effect no matter how mundane or serious.

When I was younger, I learned to live in pain. It was my "normal". Having never experienced a lack of pain, I had nothing to compare it to until I got old.

Now, pain seems to have chosen permanent residency and doesn't bounce around like it once did.

I have a very healthy neighbor, full of pep and energy and she is my age. Give her an infected hair follicle and she is writhing from the unaccustomed pain and contemplating dying from the horror of it.

THAT pisses me off more than anything.

How I wish life was a level playing field, where everyone could experience severe pain once in their lives just for the equality it would provide.

Think of the sincere empathy and understanding we would get from others instead of the "oh yeah...I once had a pimple that hurt, but I managed."

Ed Pilolla said...

i don't know chronic pain, but i have found myself lately giving thanks that i have none. it's one of the unintended gifts of blogging, to come into contact with people who have to deal with pain regularly.
i am envious of the longevity of your relationship with peggy. writing is certainly a release for me too. a few years ago i was writing like mad. now that i'm blogging, whatever i write goes online. i think my production has increased in some ways, but overall decreased. i must keep the faith i am doing what i want to be doing. sometimes i wonder...
to me reincarnation makes a lot of sense. i wouldn't mind returning after a nice rest. we'll see what the itinerary for the next life says:)

The Elephant's Child said...

Pain is such a treat isn't it? And despite popular theories on the subject, it hasn't made me a better person and I am not happy to have the medical condition which causes the pain. Quite the opposite I sadly fear.

You are right about how humbling a trawl through blogs can be. I am frequently ashamed to even admit to my pain in the face of things that other people are suffering.

I am so happy that you are able to share your days with Peggy, and to have your beautiful and polished writing as additional solace.

All Consuming said...

"I’m not doing well with my ever-worsening health situation, but I must say that I’ve gotten enormous comfort over the years by reflecting upon other people’s misery. " - Taken out of context this is a very funny statement and I get my laughs where I can so you'll have to forgive me on that one. I know what you mean and it really does help to ponder on the variety of others pain and the differences to our own, not that we wish it upon them. I genuinely think I'm probably better off having been struck down at 21 and told it's going nowhere, it'll just fluctuate and then other things joined in along the way and here I am. There are substitutes, wonderful ones to the things I could do physically were I in fine health, and I'd never have experienced them otherwise. It's harder for someone who was so physical such a short time ago.Thank the Small Gods you didn't kill yourself up that damn tree I say. I'm vastly impressed by almost 40years together. Ups and downs I'm sure but that's a mighty achievement. What an incredibly patient woman.

Hahahaha xx

Snowbrush said...

I'm so lucky in regard to the people who read this blog.

I thought of something to add to the first paragraph that's I think is pretty darn funny, so here it is at the end of the following sentence: "For three days, I slept at the other end of the house while Peggy remained in the very bedroom that was most likely to be hit—ironically, every time Peggy hears an airplane, she thinks it’s going to fall upon her.

KC, I'm delighted to see you again. My tree's first limb is at least 25 feet off the ground, and the limbs from there up are as much as 25 feet long.

Michelle, I didn't even see who you were before I started reading your comment, but I knew it was you by the end of the first sentence.

Marion, 39 years! Go girl!

Ed said: it's one of the unintended gifts of blogging, to come into contact with people who have to deal with pain regularly.

Yes, it is. Pain can feel isolating, so I find it crucial to know that, although most of us carry on our lives with little appearance of misery, there's a lot of misery to go around.

Linda, our pine tree protects us from the summer sun, so I'm anticipating getting an air conditioner when it is gone. Few of the older houses here cam with central air because it just doesn't get that hot.

No, Child, I don't guess pain has done me a hell of a lot of good either. I suppose I'm stronger and more compassionate, but the further my "normal" life recedes into the background, the less sure I become.

Natalie said...

If you get up the tree, i will personally come and kick your butt so that will be another ache you have!xx

kylie said...

hi snow,
i've missed you!
i dont think i have anything of interest to say but i enjoyed reading....


Stafford Ray said...

Hello Mate, I wrote a long detailed comment that effing Blogger wiped out! Rather than do it all again in case I lose it again, here are the main points.
Your dad. Must have been a closet gay. Could have been the reason the fights started. When he was young was not a good time to be openly gay and I feel sorry for him, his wives and you kids although he seems to have treated you kindly enough.
The tree; Cut the damned thing down and cover the roof with solar panels. That worked for my son, who was surprised how much summer heat they absorbed! They also generate the most power when the sun is hottest to run your air conditioner! neat.
last word of advice. Don't go up the tree half smashed. Send Peggy!

Lydia said...

First, I think the longevity of your marriage (and the love) is inspiring (and rare).

The tree, oh my. It is sad, but you really cannot keep on worrying about it, and I think you have been lucky in your climbing attempts to keep it at bay. I sure understand the angst. We have three giant Sequoias in our backyard that I love more than I can say, but that worry me in windstorms. They loom over our house and neighbors' homes as well. I have been assured by several arborists that Sequoias "hardly ever fall over"- so I am counting on them to be right! I cannot imagine the cost if we had to take any of them out in the future. I hope we never have to worry about it. In the meantime, if one gets us some winter my husband has determined it would be "a good death." I suppose he is right, but even with all its trials and tribulations I am not ready to leave this life yet. (And I feel much like you in that the only time I am truly happy is when I am writing.)
Take care.

River said...

I think you should let the arborist take care of the tree, why put yourself at risk of more unnecessary pain?

All Consuming said...

Just wanted to say that all men who want to wear women's clothes are not necessarily gay. Eddie Izzard is a case in point. He's straight as a die as it happens when it comes to his sexuality and he's not alone, I know a few myself. I don't mean to be rude to Stafford Ray at all so please don't take it that way, I just wanted to let people know.

The Blog Fodder said...

40 years. Good for both of you. Cutting down a tree is no fun but it sounds like your pine has served its time and has to go. Would love to have seen you go up that tree and top it off like an old time logger. Good on ya.

rhymeswithplague said...

Regarding Lydia's comment about Sequoias hardly ever falling, I read that it is because their roots are all intertwined with other Sequoia trees and so they literally hold one another up, kind of like how it works with you and Peggy or with Ellie and me or with all of us friends-of-Snow bloggers in general.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've had some chronic pain from Neuropathy for several years now and it really does take a toll on your outlook on life. So far it's been manageable but not fun, and I realize I'm likely never to be pain free again. Makes me want to sleep a lot, because it doesn't hurt then, but I do have weird dreams about things having to do with the pain, like a dream where I was being stung by wasps repeatedly in my legs, which I"m sure was related to the tingling stuff I get.

Myrna R. said...

You'll make the right decision about the tree.

I sometimes think about you when I have pain. Is it because your pain is worse than mine? Perhaps. Still, I wish yours would disappear. Take care of yourself.

The way you love Peggy, that's how my husband loves me. We're going on 42 years. I marvel at that.

The Tusk said...

In your haste to tell me you don't write for advice, I have scorned you for some short time. You have visited my blog and refused to answer your replies to blogchat. But its posts like this that wish we were neighbors, within the same climb of atmosphere. I certainly would convince you, or at least try to convince you that we could do this, I would bring some rope over and fell that damn tree. There is such a tree in my neighbors yard in which an arborists did top because a branch did pierce my house. Amazingly it crashed through a hidden closet and harmed no-one. But the fear can be an ever present recognition of the danger.
I hope it doesn't cause you to much expense, these are the kind of things the Insurance companies should pay for as preventative maintenance. I am afraid to open your attachments as I fear a virus will leash its wrath upon my hard drive and cripple my ability to reconcile my books.

I didn't read the comments in which I poor over generally, because time has become such an oppressor in my world.

Sometimes the simplest way to fell a tree is with an Axe. Can you wield an Axe?

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Snow, I'm only 47 and feel that I physically am just done... OY!

Just hang in there and try to do something every day.

For has always come in fits and spurts!

Zuzana said...

Oh, I so love your writing. Despite it being brutally honest, candid, up close and personal, it still is infused with that undying optimism and joy over life, as you embrace it in the shape and form it comes to you.
I am sorry for your physical pain, but it seems that life has tried to balance it out with real and unconditional partnership which you have found in your wife. And believe me, few are so lucky.
Good luck with the tree, this one I would cut down as well, despite my admiration for its resilience.;)

kj said...

how is it that the older we get the more we understand that life hurts? it exhaults too, but i don;t think most of us thought the hurt part would be part of the deal.

you know i give you a hard time about your pain, snow. i've come to understand that you push yourself to the max even through your pain. so i'm reading that you climbed this 15 foot tree and i'm thinking, 'now how did he manage to do that?' you are still a jock in my world. i'm not as sedentary as i think you think i am but you leave me in the dust. see me waving at you? :^)

to have two great loves--peggy and writing--seems to be a pretty good deal. i've faced lonliness down because i write.

always nice to read the way you write, snow. you had me laughing at your joy of others' suffering. hee hee

kj said...

If you head out this way, email me :-)

Mad Mind said...

I think you're only human if you think something should be better. Let's face it, we're programmed that way. Otherwise we wouldn't have this computer to communicate with or even have electricity to use it.

It's okay in my opinion, such as it is, to vent on the blogs and write. It's how I release quite a bit of moroseness.

Joe Todd said...

Stopped in to say Hi. I've planted a lot of trees in my life maybe one of the better things I've done. As far as health I'm just trying to accept "The New Normal" LOL