Monday, April 2, 2012

Things Fall Apart

Apologies to Chinua Achebe who, when he was talking about Things Fall Apart, was discussing problems of a much deeper and existential nature than my own petty bumps in the road.

Nevertheless, I have been confronted in recent weeks with plenty of examples of things falling apart.

Exhibit A: the enormous and beautiful silver maple in our back yard:

For all I know, this tree has stood watch over this house for most of the last century. Alas, its days are numbered. Ever since the freak snowstorm last October, when the tree lost a few moderately sized limbs, I have had a wary eye on the main trunk, just below the fork. I have known for at least a year that it has a sizable split in it. I thought it mostly superficial, but it is visible on both sides of the trunk. I'd been meaning for a few months now to bring in an arborist to have a look at it, and see if it might be possible to reinforce the tree with some cables joining the two trunks together. This past Friday, while out walking his dog, our neighbor heard a distinctive pop coming from back there. The crack hasn't gotten a whole lot larger, but it seems a lot more threatening now. Using you hand to span the gap, you can feel the two halves moving separately when the wind blows.

I spent a decent amount of time on Friday calling local tree services. I've now had five come out to look at it, and all have concluded that it cannot be saved; it must be taken down. Two of them, after giving me this judgment, subsequently bowed out; too big and complicated a job without a good crew and a crane. The other three I am awaiting written proposals from. One says he can do it in two weeks, the others will shuffle things to get to it in the next 2-3 days. All have ballparked it at somewhere between $2000 and $3000.

It is a sad thing: the death of a mighty old tree. Its shade and presence will be sorely missed. Although we'll plant anew, a tree of that stature won't grace this house for decades. But it cannot be meaningfully saved, and I do not love it enough to risk having it crush my garage, my neighbor's, the back fence, or the cars in the parking lot on the other side. I'd be happier if we had a fireplace, and could at least turn it into firewood. I've considered having the larger sections sawn into planks for subsequent woodworking. But, considering I've got about 50 board-feet of rough-sawn lumber in the garage already, with little prospect of using it anytime soon, adding to the collection a stack of green boards probably isn't worthwhile.

Next exhibit: the backyard fence. I haven't ever liked it. There is something to be said for the lichen-covered, greying look of weathered wood. But when it is combined with rotting posts and gates than can only be opened by lifting and setting aside, charm counts for very little. Let us be honest: it was cheaply constructed years ago and poorly maintained ever since. It spent the winter reinforced with stakes and ropes, awaiting the inevitable...

This section flopped unceremoniously to the ground the other day.

Not too surprising: the posts had rotted clean through at ground level. And not those two: all of the posts of the fence are exhibiting a lot of wobble. It does not inspire confidence.

The gate section is missing two pickets and one hinge. In the time we've owned this house, it has never swung freely or latched. The rest would fall over with one solid kick. So, off to the dumpster with it. I'll put in some sweat equity on a replacement in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Jasper has an unimpeded escape route from the back yard. But no worries, he only escapes to go run up and wait on the front porch. At least that is in good repair.

Next: our attic renovations. This hasn't shown up on the blog yet, but it will: we are gutting the attic to the studs and renovating it to be a master suite. Well, it would be a master suite for any other home owner; for us it will be an elaborate guest room. More on that later. In the meantime, this is what it looks like:

In the past few days the big pile of debris piled into the middle has been tossed out the window, gradually filling a 20-cu.yd dumpster. Just today we had a guy come in to suck out the 2-year old blown cellulose from the pitch and the ceiling, and inject it down through the balloon-constructed exterior walls to the second floor. It's a haphazard job, but salvages some good material and puts to better use than filling a dumpster. The 2nd floor walls can definitely use a little help: an energy audit last winter revealed that they have no insulation in them. The studs have a greater R-value than the rest of the walls!

Final exhibit: my car will roll over to 100,000 miles in the next few days. I've had that car since the winter of 2004, when I bought it off-lease for a bargain price of $8500. It had less than 30,000 miles on it then. It had a couple of easy years in Minnesota, where Hilary and I had walking commutes. Since our return to New Hampshire, I've been putting over 1000 miles per month on it. It still runs well, and hasn't been too expensive to maintain. I think I can reasonably expect another 2-3 years from it (I hope: it'll take that long to finish paying off Hilary's Subaru!).

Still, scheduled maintenance at the dealer is never cheap. Replacing the timing belt (and associated claptrap like the water pump, tensioner, and serpentine) is recommended by now. That can get done by a local guy, but is still hundreds of dollars. And the car is due for state inspection. All of this on a volkswagon means I should probably just hand over my wallet and be done.

Coming soon: our street is getting torn up and redone in the coming weeks. On the plus side, it'll mean the sewer, water, and natural gas connections will get some upgrades, not to mention a smooth surface for B's continuing adventures with pedal-bicycling. On the downside, the local utility will need to punch a hole in the side of the house for the new gas line, and possibly trench our driveway.

It's probably best if we leave the crumbling retaining wall and front steps out of the conversation. And don't get me started on the 2nd floor bathroom. Is that kitchen faucet still dripping? I wonder if I'll ever see my garage workshop again. Anyone got some gasoline and a match?

At the moment, I'm feeling (and no doubt sounding) like a tired old curmudgeon.

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