Category Archives: For Better or Worse

Punxsutawney Phil Has Nothing on My Lawn Mower

Two surefire signs that winter’s grip is slipping and spring is on final approach: The pitchers and catchers reported for spring training last Wednesday for the Mariners and I had to mow my lawn on Sunday.

While having nothing to do with the former, I must take some of the blame for the latter. Quite possibly the earliest I’ve ever broken out the lawn mower (we’re still a solid month away from the official first day of spring), it wasn’t due to any prowess at growing grass. Rather it was a combination of a very mild Pacific Northwest winter, some good time-release fertilizer, an opportunistic spate of sunshine and my inability to get one last good mowing in late last fall before the rain set in. So the lawn went dormant looking shagging and unkempt.

The recent spate of sunny weather woke the grass once more and it picked up where it left off, forcing the need to pull the mower out from under the ever-growing rubble of inline skates, Razor scooters, flat basketballs, Frisbees and other general garage detritus that accumulated over the past few months.

I’d love to take credit for my winterizing skills of draining the oil and gasoline from the mower before stowing it. But the reality is I did none of that, so it is a credit to the engineers of Toro that the old beast rumbled to life on just the second pull. No doubt my neighbors looked out their window at the crazy guy next door with the mower going in February. But I felt vindicated when later in the day, I could hear other mowers sputtering to life.

As a threat of implied punishment, I keep telling my 11-year-old that he will soon take on the task of lawn care. But the truth is I’m reluctant to give up the task. There is something inherently satisfying in turning a shaggy, disheveled looking lawn into a miniature Safeco Field using just a 15-inch wide mower. The smell of freshly cut grass and the green stains on my hands from emptying out the catcher bring back memories of youthful days when — though it was an assigned chore — cutting the lawn was a task I was always happy to do.

Lawn mowing can be at once both therapeutic and relaxing. There is no rush, yet there is always a very real and tangible end product to the task. Unlike working in the garden or toiling in flower beds, you can see your handiwork at the end of the day. Some years back, my wife discovered a new use for mowing the lawn. Being nine months and a day pregnant, she mowed “just to shake things up,” and it worked. She went into labor that night.

I mow — not to induce labor or create it — but because unlike any other activity around the house, it brings a sense of spring to the senses.

I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes — But This Guy Does

House spider

As the cool air begins to chill the nights, the annual ritual of my wife’s blood-curdling screams fill the rooms and shatter the otherwise mostly peaceful ambiance that hangs about our rural county home.

Is she susceptible to the grisly nature of horror films that profilgate the airwaves and Netflix at this time of year? (Well, yes, but that’s not what causes her to scream.) Nor is she preparing for an upcoming appearance in one of the local theaters’ annual haunted house extravaganzas — although her howls would most assuredly add an air of sinister authenticity to the fright fests.

No, what sends her into an apoplectic shrilly nonsense is our diminutive and oft-misunderstood friend: a spider.

Like many “arachnophobes,” she firmly believes our little houseguests come in from the cold as the weather takes a turn for the worse. And up until a couple of days ago, I believed the very same myth. That is, until doing research for this blog post, I came across the Web site of a one certain Rod Crawford, curator of Arachnids at Burke Museum, on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle.

I had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Crawford on the telephone about a dozen years ago, when as a reporter, I was preparing background information on a story of a local claiming to have found a brown recluse in their home. Mr. Crawford assured me that if indeed a person had found a brown recluse, that I had a much bigger story than I intended, as no such confirmation of this particular spider being found in western Washington had yet been made.

We talked at some length of some other spider myths before ending our conversation. Now I doubt very seriously that my one phone call so many years ago led him to publish his Web site (but I’ll gladly take some of the credit, regardless), but he has, since that fateful phone call, put upon the Web — pun most definitely intended — a site about the many spider myths. And there are quite a few.

Just some of the myths he debunks are: You are never more than three feet from a spider; spiders found in bathtubs and sinks came up through the drain pipes; the Daddy-longlegs has the world’s most dangerous venom but it’s fangs are too soft to penetrate human skin; when black widow spiders mate, the female always kills and eats the male; some bubble gum has spider eggs in it; people are bitten by spiders at night while they sleep; you can identify a spider by a photo or by its markings — and a particularly disturbing myth, that we swallow an average of four live spiders per year while we sleep.

I could go on in some detail to some of the myths vs. reality, but why when Mr. Crawford has done such an excellent job already and you can read his handiwork for yourself by clicking here?

I will admit that I have heard and believed a number of the spider myths he squashes on his Web site. In particular: that spiders come into a house to escape the cold. Think about it. They are not warm-blooded so they do not react to the vagaries of outdoor temperature changes other than to die when it gets too cold. It was fascinating to read how there are in the Pacific Northwest roughly 30 outdoor arachnid species, 25 indoor species and eight that can live indoors and outside. Most of the house spiders we see have lived their entire life inside and putting them outside is most certainly a death sentence for the spider (another myth busted).

A big myth that I still have a hard time adjusting to is that spiders rarely bite and on average a person is bitten once or twice in their life. Of the thousands of spiders he has handled, Crawford claims to have been bitten only twice.

So as Halloween approaches and the visible sight of orb weaver webs can be seen on virtually ever bush and tree, take time to read how misunderstood our little multi-eyed friends are. Like sharks and wolves, they have garnered an undeserved reputation amid their human counterparts. It’s time they earned a little respect for all the good they provide by keeping a pest-filled insect world in line.

But that respect will stop short with my arachnid-fearing wife. She won’t even discuss a spider’s attributes and the photo I’ve attached to this post will guarantee to keep her from ever reading this blog.

And my apologies to Jim Stafford’s 1970s classic, “Spiders and Snakes,” about winning love through intimidation. I loved that song as a teenager.

Fence May Make Good Neighbors, But Also Creates One Grouchy Fence Builder

The next time you find yourself driving along Interstate 90 somewhere between Yakima and nowhere, look out either window (assuming you are on a nice long straight stretch of highway without an 18-wheeler blocking your view) and take note of what you see. I can tell you right now — besides a whole lot of agricultural nothingness — is a fence. Miles and miles of fence.

I know my sensibilities are a bit odder than most, as I sometimes find myself thinking about things that most other people take little or no heed of — like fences running along the side of the road.

But I don’t spend much time speculating why a fence is so urgently needed where there is clearly no one or no thing itching to get either on or off or even across the highway splitting two horizons of barren Washington terrain. No, I ponder the poor souls who labored countless hours (read days, weeks maybe even months) to construct a barrier stretching for countless miles — no doubt with the intent of keeping some lonely, drought stricken wild animal, delirious with thirst, from seeking the mirage of shimmering water way down the highway. Lot of work to keep one potential critter from becoming the latest roadkill.

The labor needed for such a venture was brought home with a vengeance a few weekends back when I decided — as a Mother’s Day gift to my wife — to replace our hastily constructed chicken-wire fence around the garden plot with a more traditional, sturdy and more or less permanent fence.

The sad excuse of fence currently surrounding the garden is no doubt a serious laughing point to all the wildlife in the area, being only about two feet tall before it got all squashed and bent and contorted by kids, garden hoses, dogs and who knows what else to the point that you’d have to go out of your way to stumble on it in going to and from the garden.

I figured this was a project I could handle, given I wasn’t looking at bordering the back 40 here. As garden plots go, this one is modest. All told, I figured I needed to build 132 feet of fence, gate included. Counting the chicken wire joke we strung up to keep the rabbits from going to town on the garden a few years back, my fence building experience fits neatly on one hand and requires only two fingers, excluding the days in my youth watching my dad build a backyard barrier to neighbors who didn’t even exist at the time (but who later showed up — very prescient of him).

The only other fence of note I’ve constructed was a prefab where all I had to do was properly space a half-dozen posts. To this day, the wife likes to remind me how my “straight” line had a kink in it — to which I will forever link the blame to our then 2-year-old who liked to play with the string line.

But this newest fence was to be built from scratch. No pre-molded sections here. I determined it had to high enough to keep the neighbor’s new dog at bay (the driving reason for a new fence) while still going underground enough to keep rabbits frustrated. It couldn’t be a plank or a slat fence as that would create too much shade on the garden. So I opted for a minimum set of posts (13) with a single horizontal rail of 2x4s running lengthwise to help hold the wire fencing in place.

Three weekends (including a disproportionate amount of Memorial Day weekend), 11 extra trips to both Home Depot and Lowes, one post hole auger rental, several budget revisions, six hours spent unsuccessfully attempting to unearth one beastly boulder, three unplanned layout changes, a mosquito attack, untold amounts of beer, two battles with blackberry bushes, one severely pinched nipple ( … don’t ask …) and a total destruction of a pair of workboots later — and “the project” still is officially only 1/3 the way strung with fencing wire.

So another weekend of stretching wire, hammering fence staples, ditch digging and random bouts of cussing in general await me before I can officially claim my third fence complete. Even with all of that done, I still have to build and hang the gate or the fence will remain just a piece of somewhat ornamental yard fare while remaining completely and totally useless.

Which brings me back to the highway and those miles upon miles of fencing.

My 132 feet of fence will swallow a month of weekends, has blown our family budget for the summer and has most assuredly robbed me of at least 10 years of easy living I could had had at the end of my life. Makes me want to go lay on the sofa just thinking about it. I can only imagine the cost paid to lay those miles and miles of fence running from point A to point B in the middle of nowhere.