Friday, March 04, 2011

Prune all the things

Last night I drove across town to my house - almost.  I parked my car at the service station across the street, dropped an envelope with my name outside and my key inside through a slot in the door, and walked over to my house.

It was time to get my side-view mirror replaced.  I had made a workable temporary fix by supergluing the major parts of the housing back together and then attaching a plastic replacement mirror (cut from a rectangular sheet I bought at an auto parts store) with multiple pieces of Velcro, which combined adhesive strength, flexibility, and the ability to fill gaps.  Yes, for about two weeks I've been driving around with a side view mirror held together with Velcro and superglue.  Workable and ridiculous.

I slept well, as I always have since I had the security system installed.  But after I woke I began the waiting game for my car.  I wasn't about to call first thing, so I puttered about a bit, arranging things that needed arranging, checking my week-old plug in the chimney (made from a 6" steel duct cap and silver-foil heat resistant tape) where the stovepipe from the old coal stove in the kitchen used to enter.  I puttered through what would have been breakfast up to what would have been lunch without hearing from them.  Finally I remembered a task I had put on my list long ago: prune the grapevines.

The grapevines in my yard are over a hundred years old, judging from their appearance as full-sized vines in the oldest photos of the house.   The vines seemed to have been planted in what was once the common "red, white, and blue" pattern:  a red "spice" grape, white Niagara grapes, and blue Concord grapes, with another vine of Concords in the back by the garage.  Tragically, some of them have died out in recent decades. The red grapes died, or were killed, some fifteen or so years ago, and the Concord grapes behind the house seem to have gone away.  Meanwhile, black rot has become a regular problem, especially during hot, wet summers.  Several invasive vines and weeds have worked themselves into the grapevines, especially deadly nightshade and a sort of wild raspberry that is all thorns and no usable fruit. And just to make things interesting, a mutant sort of grape has appeared on one end of the grape arbor, golden-yellow with a dull, yeasty taste.

So my task was clear:  Prune away old growth, crossed vines, and excessively exuberant growth.  Open up regions for air circulation.  Remove all black rot "mummies."  Remove any weeds and vines.  Prune away the dreaded wild raspberries.

The actual pruning of the actual grapevines was fun.  I moved around quickly, trying to envision the finished product like a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone.  Thanks to diligent applications of fungicide and relatively clement weather last year, there were not many black rot mummies to worry about.  Nightshade was a problem in the vines behind the house, but I cleared as much of it as I could find.  I also had to repair the detached wires on which I was training the Canadice vines that are the replacements for the late lamented spice grapes.

Then I moved to the other grapevine, the Concords in the back by the garage.  Pruning the grapevine itself was an easy process.  On a lark I had allowed the grapevines to stretch out along a clothesline that runs the length of the yard between the arbor near the house and the one near the garage.  Unfortunately the vines that took this path showed a lot of leaf growth and very little fruit production.  (In fact, the previously mentioned yellow yeasty grapes grew along the clothesline near the house.)  I ruthlessly cut away at these vines, then took down the vines that were blocking the door to the garage and the pathway to the rear gate.  And then I discovered that the grapevines were not the issue I needed to focus on.

Reaching out of the ground like emissaries from Hell were dozens of shoots of wild raspberry.  Many of these were very tall, four or six or more feet, and some were up to three-quarters of an inch thick, and some branched out into two or three or four more nightmarish vines.  Thorns covered every inch of the shoots, hard and strong and needle-sharp, able to pass through fabric like it wasn't there.  Even my leather gloves were penetrated again and again, and I was glad I was wearing a hat, glasses, and earmuffs.  (I should have worn goggles to protect my glasses.)   Pruning these was a huge problem.  I often cut the shoots in the middle, then worked my way up and then down, removing each one in several pieces.  The thorns tangled themselves in my clothes and trailed along with me as I moved around.  I think I got most of them, though since I simply cut them down to the ground instead of rooting them out, I expect they will be back. 

When I finished I was faced with the question of what to do with all the stuff I had pruned.  Yard waste collection won't begin for another month or so, and I didn't want to stash the painfully dangerous wild raspberry cuttings along with the benign grapevine prunings.  In the end I decided to pile all the thorny stuff along the inside of the fence between the back alley and the rear grapevine.  Anyone who decides to vault that fence will be in for a surprise.

I tucked away the raspberry cuttings, gathered the grapevine prunings into a can on my back porch, went in through the back door, and reset the alarm.I stripped off my leather gloves and looked at my hands, scratched and bleeding.  I realized my legs were pretty scratched, too, right through my jeans.  I took off my gardening coat, hung it and my hat and scarf and earmuffs up on the hall tree, and settled down to watch some television while I waited for the call from the service station across the street.  Then it would be time to drive back across town and finally get something to eat.

Title reference:  "Clean all the things!" from the post "This is Why I'll Never be an Adult" on the amazing blog-you-should-be-reading Hyperbole and a Half.

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