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.