There’s something about standing at the edge of a roof twenty-two feet above the ground that has sort of a profound effect on me. There are clear hints of mortality even though the chances of surviving the fall might be better than I think. Being too lazy to look up the physics formula I’m not sure what my velocity would be at impact but I’m pretty sure it would be sufficient to allow me a closer investigation of the possibilities of life after death.
Such were the thoughts that occupied me for a while just over a week ago as I was cleaning the gutters on our two-and-a-half story centenarian house at Blair, Kansas. Although the roof is quite steep it flares out into a low slope right near the edge of the roof. This provides a “safe” walkway around the edge of the house. “Safe” as long as nothing unexpected happens while dragging fifty feet of hose around. “Safe” as long as you don’t slip on an unseen slick spot or a small round stick lying on the shingles.
In retrospect, “safe” is probably not the most accurate term to use here. Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is “safe” as long as nothing bad happens to the passenger.
It seems I have a tendency to use that term “safe” when what I really mean is there is a fairly good chance of escaping the situation without mortal injury or long term disability as long as I exercise careful judgment, deliberation and caution. In the case of cleaning the gutters, walking the roofline and using the water hose to clear out accumulated decayed leaves and loose grit from the shingles simply seemed like the best option.
For the last several weeks or possibly months, every hard rain resulted in water overflowing from the gutters, making its way into the basement and making a bit of a mess. Not a sustainable model if one wants to preserve stored materials, prevent extensive mold and avoid a protracted period of foul odors. Therefore, cleaning the gutters became a bit of an imperative, especially halfway through at least ten days of continual rain.
Renting a bucket truck would work—for only one side of the house. Otherwise, trees highly valued for shade and privacy would have to be sacrificed. Too high a price. Ditto for hiring someone else to come do the job, presuming such a person could even be found in northeast Kansas.
And so, with Randa managing the ground connections and wrangling the low end of the hose, we worked our way around the house in the fading light of a rainy day. As the last bit of day ebbed away from the western sky, I climbed back up the long limber ladder and re-connected the transverse from the gutter to the downspout. Working together, we lowered the ladder and carried it back to the shed. Finally, after nearly two hours, the knots in our gut could relax.
At least for now, the gutters should do their work, keeping the basement free of uninvited moisture and allowing us to postpone a little longer our closer investigation of the implications of mortality. On that question, it seems that most of us do prefer faith over personal experience.