The Eavestrough Gardener

This summer, I noticed little plants growing up out of the eaves of my house. For those of you who are more diligent about home maintenance, this might sound quite horrifying. It was definitely surprising. But not when I look at the big picture. And not when I actually got up there and saw for myself the fertile earth where the plants were growing. (But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Wait for it!)

The big picture was this. I moved into my amazing house four years ago, and despite being told by more than one person that I should clean out the eaves every fall, I didn’t do it. I knew I should do it, but it was one of those things that I put off, partly because I couldn’t see what was happening up there. And partly because of this kind of amusing internal dialogue:

“I should really clean the eaves. Okay, I’ll hire someone. Are there eaves cleaning companies? That will probably cost a fortune! Maybe I should hire that nice guy at the market who said he does odd jobs. That’s silly. You can do this yourself. Borrow a ladder and get up there! Are you crazy? That is NOT a good idea. Just hire someone who knows what they’re doing and then you won’t break your neck. Listen to you. You’re always going on about creating your own reality. Look what you’re creating! A fall off a ladder. Way to go.”

You get the picture. My internal war meant the eaves didn’t get cleaned out. My house is surrounded by big beautiful trees. Four falls passed. That’s a lot of leaves, which over four years means a lot of beautiful compost. A perfect bed for seeds.

So, a couple of weeks ago, in a moment of sheer and utter frustration with myself, I decide that I need to deal with the eaves. I stride out onto the street as if I expect an eavestrough cleaning vehicle to be passing by (mind you, if that had happened, I wouldn’t have been surprised). The first person I see is my neighbour, Fergus. I ask him if he knows any good companies that could come and do the work.

“You don’t need to hire anyone!” he says, looking at me with the utmost sincerity and confidence. “You can do that yourself. I’ve got a ladder.” And before I know it, we’re in his shed and I am getting a quick lesson on extension ladders. “The weather’s supposed to be good this weekend. Just put the ladder back when you’re done.”

His confidence carries me back across the street where I lean the ladder against the side of the house. I make sure it’s on level ground and start to climb. The ladder rocks a little in the wind. My heart starts to pound. Fergus thinks you can do this, I say to myself. The only problem is I didn’t realize the top of the house was so high. Dear God. And I have about eight more rungs before I can even reach the gutter! I look around. I try and enjoy the view. I don’t. I get down.

What was Fergus thinking?, I ask myself. I start to return the ladder and then I remember that there is a lower section of the roof at the back of the house. Maybe I can climb onto it to get at a particularly messy part of the gutter. And then I won’t feel like a complete and utter failure.

At the back of the house, I steady the ladder again, and climb. I get to the top and crawl onto the roof. I did it! For a minute I feel like a child who figured out how to get a different view of the neighbourhood (wow, look at that!) and then I remind myself I have a job to do. Crawling over to the small garden in the gutter, I rip out the beautiful bed of dirt that four years of composted leaves has created. I throw the offenders down onto the deck with great relish and crawl back to the ladder.

Oh shit.

I got up, but how the hell do I get down? I suddenly remember the public service announcements of my youth. Ladder safety. There is always someone standing at the bottom! I think of all the articles I’ve written about safety. How could I be so silly? Eternities pass. My heart is pounding. I imagine having to live on the roof. I imagine myself in the emergency room after falling off the roof. I imagine flagging down a neighbour and the look they will give me.

I will save you more drama. I eventually got down. But I did realize I needed help and texted my friend, Fayette. She came the next day and held the ladder (in a Halifax drizzle – a true friend!). I can’t even begin to tell you how much more confident I felt with her at the bottom. I whizzed up and down that ladder, feeling like superwoman.

We made our way around the house and Fayette pointed out the places where I would need to buy eaves spikes (also called gutter nails – who knew!) because my little garden had actually expanded the walls of the gutter and separated it from the roof. “They’re at the hardware. You just hammer them in.” She made it sound so easy. She made it sound like I was perfectly capable. Like Fergus had. And the truth is, it was easy. And I am capable.

And that’s kind of the point of this whole story.

Fayette and Fergus knew I could do the job. I just needed a little help. He loaned me the ladder and she held it. But I climbed it. And I got the job done. (I even got the spikes and hammered them in. And it wasn’t hard!)

This whole experience has given me pause and made me reflect anew on all the ways we hold ourselves back. Through entrenched beliefs about ourselves, through unhelpful internal dialogue, and through fear.

I’m curious: What have you told yourself you can’t do? What are you really capable of? Who believes in you? Who can help you see what your abilities are, past your own blind spots?

And can you ask them to hold your ladder?


Originally published on my blog “This Sweet World”