Cleaning eave-troughs at two in the morning

Years ago, I learned the fine art and essential wisdom of clean eave-troughs (some of you call them gutters) from my grandfather. Grandpa farmed and ranched in Kansas for a good percentage of his life, in some fashion or another. Every time I came back for a visit–always understood to be a working visit, in which I would assist him with whatever project came to hand–one of my first jobs would be to clean the eave-troughs. Always on the farmhouse, a sprawling limestone building that has to be 4000 ft² or more with a Shakey’s roof shape that means eave-troughs 360º, and often on two of the three enormous stone barns. (The third lost a roof long ago, I believe to a tornado, and thus no longer needed my assistance.)

Eave-troughs have been part of my life all through adulthood, even before I was a homeowner. The only ex-girlfriend I make an effort to stay in touch with, on my first visit, I had volunteered to tackle her house’s eave-troughs. This was in Seattle, and it poured that day. Of course, she made protestations that I didn’t really need to do it. Of course, being a young male, I was going to do it hell or high water. The metaphor never fit quite so well. It was a Midwestern thing; she was an Oklahoma native, I was a Kansas man, and she knew that I had to do it for my own sense of rugged pride and promises kept. Some would say I was an idiot. Others would understand, and think it meritorious to keep a commitment and assist a nice lady. It sparked a relationship with the nice lady, one that would teach me a great deal about good ways to help my future wife when I met her.

One day, should we ever make it to Hawai’i, my beautiful bride has many reasons to thank this lady. And being the class act that she is, my wife will do so.

Thus, in Kennewick, I took one look at our first home’s ludicrous eave-troughs and ordered them replaced. Unfortunately, I hired a professional contractor, who promptly sent out a disgruntled employee on the verge of quitting his job. He didn’t even screw the corner pieces together. The foreman treated me like a liar on the phone, at least until he finally came out under legal threat. That was my first experience with contractors, and it gave me an idea of what to expect from there on out.

Never needed them much in Boise, but when we moved back to the wet side, one of my first surveys of the home I’d just bought was of the eave-trough situation. (Yes. I signed on a house I had only seen in pictures. My wife had chosen it, and in married life, it’s one thing to talk a good game about trust and respect; quite another to lay those cards on the table and gamble six figures. If you refuse to trust your spouse with a major decision, it’s my opinion that you’ve got a problem.) They looked rock solid, but filthy, so I borrowed a ladder from a neighbor and cleaned them out. Thought I’d taken care of the problem for the near future.

Then it didn’t rain in Portland for two months. I dawdled buying a ladder, mostly out of a silly reluctance to cough up money that I knew without doubt I would need to spend before long. This very day, so happens, I broke down and bought one. Good thing.

Friday night was windy, and a lot of pine needles had come down. This evening, Portland began to return to its normal weather pattern: steady intermittent rain. Since I had cleaned the eave-troughs earlier, I remained serene.

Around 1:45 AM, I was taking my ease in the library, reading a library book (not one of mine), contemplating going to bed. I heard a mighty pouring sound. Exactly as tradition requires, I swore before getting up to survey the situation. At the midpoint, the eave-trough was blocked enough to overflow. I could see enough needles sticking up in the cloudy moonlight to grasp the problem.

I said some more bad words, then went in to wake Deb up. Nothing would freak her out like awakening to the splucking sound of wads of eave-trough crud hitting the patio outside her window; better to wake her now and explain than to scare the hell out of her. (That, and I didn’t want her coming out with her Gurkha knife to investigate me. Deb is Alaskan, and more prone to handle her business than to call 911 and cower.) Bless her, she offered to help, but that wasn’t needed. No reason for both of our lives to be unpleasant.

So: jacket (where the hell did we put it?), tuque, shoes, brand new ladder, eave-trough tool I’d bought, flashlight, and out I go. Of course, the clog is where the hot tub will not permit me to put the ladder, so I will need the reach of the tool. It’s pouring, I’m up on the ladder in my summer attire plus jacket and tuque, and every time I grab a spiny handful of muddy pine needles, I slosh about a pint of water onto myself. In the dark, not so enjoyable, but the nice thing about getting wet is that once you are soaked, you can’t get any more soaked. I used the tool to drag a clog of needles toward me, dug them out, threw them wherever, and repeated until one section was clear. Then I moved the ladder and repeated, working my way toward the downspout. It was clogtacular. It wouldn’t be worth writing about if it’d been daylight, but 2:00 AM in the rain is not when most of us experience a sudden impulse to set up a ladder and begin eave-trough maintenance.

The only sound sweeter than free-flowing water into the storm drains was the pouring of Laphroaig into my favorite whisky glass. One drop of tap water, as is traditional, and a return to my calm reading. Then I decided you folks would find most amusing the image of a fat balding middle-aged guy up on a ladder in the rain at 2 AM being uncomfortable, and decided to write while I rewarded myself with a snort of single-malt.

Good night, folks.

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