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Hustling, bustling, and not falling off the roof

I’ve been hustling the last week to catch up on summer projects before the first autumnal rains hit tomorrow. The rains will be much appreciated by the poor, fire-scorched people east of the mountains; what a terrible summer they’ve had!

Even here, near the coast, a real rain will be a blessing for downing dust and cleaning sometimes-smoky air.

Normally, sea breezes keep our air clean, but it’s been eye-stinging a couple of times this week. I can only imagine what the poor east-of-the-mountains folk have been enduring.


I apologize to the Commentariat members who left interesting or helpful remarks I should have replied to. But I’ve been outside hammering, sawing, caulking, and painting. Cussing, too, of course. But only minimally because this week’s two projects went pretty well and I’m amazed that after nearly two idle months with a broken ankle I’m as caught up on house projects as I am.

The last three days I was up on a roof, though. Ugh. That part I could have done without.

It was no big deal, really. That section of roof is nearly flat and only about nine feet off the ground, so the job itself — scraping and painting a peak of the house and putting a cedar trim strip over the edge of the torch-down roofing — wasn’t all that perilous. I had plenty of room to stand, walk around, and stage equipment and materials. But knowing I had to take the first step back onto the ladder to descend freaked me out. Just thinking about it. Hate that part.

The first and third days I worked up there were cloudy and pleasant and no problem. The second day the sun baked the tarry black roofing — and me. Heat and fumes had me light-headed. I also had to do the “scariest” work that day, including cutting off some protruding bolt-ends and a piece of conduit for a satellite dish that’s no longer there. This was only my second time ever using an angle grinder. Though I marvel at what short work it makes of metal, the device totally intimidates me.

Metal shrieks! Sparks fly! Piercing bits of fire fall into my hair and onto my arms. I’m wearing goggles, of course, to protect eyes from stray metal bits, but you’d have to bundle up in a spacesuit to avoid all the sparks. They do no harm, but they definitely sting. And such high drama! That tortured metalic screaming. That flying fire. Those oweys. The risk of burning the whole place down (never mind that the risk is miniscule and I had a bucket of water beside me). Even though I did the cut-off work and other snall, stressful stuff first thing and only had to do the EZ second coat of paint after that. I felt out of balance all morning.

And I’m such a wuss. So that noon, hot and light-headed and freaked out, I go to climb down the ladder. And I can’t. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I try to step onto the nice, sturdy extension ladder borrowed from a neighbor, and my feet refuse.

I take a breath, walk back over to the wall I’ve been working at and inspect progress (merely for something to do). I take a drink of water. I walk back over to the ladder … and still no go. I picture myself, broken, on the driveway below.

I spot a young neighbor outside by his car and consider calling him over to help me down. And with that, I realize I’m just being silly. I climb onto the ladder and go down, no problem. But back in the house, it takes me 15 minutes and a large glass of sugary ice tea before I quit shaking.

The next day I have to go up and down several times and I’m perfectly fine.

Still glad that job’s over with, though!


  1. Joel
    Joel August 27, 2015 8:42 am

    Oh, been there done that. I’ve been frozen with fear on a roof next to a perfectly good ladder I had no trouble exiting, but couldn’t bring myself to re…um, get back onto. Absolutely certain the ground will lose all friction and the ladder will slide right off the earth with me on it, and then gravity will squash me like a bug. Aware that it’s silly. Stuck there anyway. Geez, I hate that.

  2. Claire
    Claire August 27, 2015 8:50 am

    Joel — I thought of you and your recent adventures while writing about this. Yep, you’ve described exactly the fear. It’s not getting onto the roof. It’s not even being high up on a ladder. It’s that one moment of stepping from roof to ladder. Glad I’m in good company. But those moments of being stuck are as embarrassing as they are silly.

  3. Ellendra
    Ellendra August 27, 2015 8:50 am

    When I was a kid I’d frequently get stuck in my grandfather’s hayloft for hours at a time, because I couldn’t make myself take that first step back on the ladder. The ladder was built in such a way that there was nothing to hang on to at the top. Just the floor covered in slippery hay, and the trust that the step you couldn’t see would be there, but in order to reach it you had to shift enough of your weight over the edge that there was no going back . . .

    Nobody who’s been there is going to laugh at you for it.

  4. LarryA
    LarryA August 27, 2015 9:05 am

    Congratulations. Asphalt roofing is #1 on my list of jobs I never want to have again even if I’m starving.

    …I had a bucket of water beside me
    For any task like that a small 1A/10BC fire extinguisher is a much better choice. Handier, more directional, multiple shots, won’t spill even if you knock it over, plays well with electricity, usually causes less damage and mess. If you’re moving around you can rig a sling to keep one handy. There should be one in your kitchen anyway.

    And they’re on Amazon: “See all the hot new releases in Fire Extinguishers” LOL

    We had our own brush fire in the west end of the county, though not as big. 18-wheeler lost a tire and sparks from the rim caught in the grass beside the road. Getting into the season.

  5. LarryA
    LarryA August 27, 2015 9:10 am

    And yeah, I HATE that first step off the roof. Though I see myself going over backwards so the ladder lands on top of me.

  6. MJR
    MJR August 27, 2015 9:48 am

    One of the things that I learned early on in life is that gravity is not my friend. I know from experience how hard that first grasp of the ladder is when starting the decent to terra firma. There are just so many things that can go wrong. Courage is when you act even though your actions scare the crap out of you. Your actions, you and Joel both, show just how courageous you are.

  7. Jim B.
    Jim B. August 27, 2015 10:07 am

    Such an easy fix, just have a deep pool to fall into. ; )

  8. Claire
    Claire August 27, 2015 10:19 am

    LarryA — Oh, I’ve got four fire extinguishers in the house. The bucket of water was actually for paint brushes (that job on the house peak involved four colors and I didn’t want to climb down to rinse brushes). But true, I didn’t think of taking a fire extinguisher up there for that sparky work.

  9. Claire
    Claire August 27, 2015 10:20 am

    Glad to know others don’t like that first step, either! But I can’t claim any courage, MJR. It was more like not wanting to embarrass myself.

    And Jim B. — Next time I’ll be sure to have a pool dug. Then I can be afraid that I’ll fall off the ladder, be knocked unconscious, and drown. 😉

  10. Claire
    Claire August 27, 2015 10:22 am

    “there was nothing to hang on to at the top. Just the floor covered in slippery hay, and the trust that the step you couldn’t see would be there”

    Urk! What even made you get up there in the first place? I think grandpa would have had to come get me with a forklift!

  11. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal August 27, 2015 10:44 am

    My dad fell off the roof years ago as he was getting on or off the ladder. He got entangled in the ladder as he fell and lay by the house for a while before he finally crawled to the door and hollered for help. (It was a Saturday morning and my sisters and I were watching cartoons.) He had split his heel bone longitudinally when he hit the concrete at the bottom.

    After that, I was the designated roof person at the house. I have a fear of heights, but I guess not too terrible. My dad installed a handle on the roof to help him get on and off (he froze up going either direction after the fall), but he ended up not using it much since I was the one doing the roof stuff.

    Maybe you should install a handle or find a willing stooge. 😉

  12. Claire
    Claire August 27, 2015 11:21 am

    Kent — Well, thank you so much for confirming everybody’s “silly” fears. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.

    Pretty good, though, that you were willing and able to become the designated “roof stooge” after seeing what happened to your dad. Handle. Hmmmm.

  13. Matt, another
    Matt, another August 27, 2015 11:51 am

    I have the same fear of ladders. Not afraid of heights, just afraid of falling. Worst day was climbing a ladder into a gun tower that was swaying in the wind.

  14. mary in Texas
    mary in Texas August 27, 2015 1:00 pm

    Several people that I know have fallen from ladders and hurt themselves badly–one succeeded in shattering his heel bone. I at one time climbed in and out of a hayloft without fear, but I started up a forest service with friends one day and was terrified. That began a fear of heights. Now I am even apprehensive when I get on a short ladder to get things from high shelves. I was once taken to the observation tower at the University of Texas library and was convinced that the thing was sloping outward. The waist-high brick around it was no comfort. That was a step toward getting rid of the UT boyfriend since he thought it was funny!

  15. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau August 27, 2015 1:23 pm

    I used to have little fear. As a kid I spent a fair amount of time way up in a tree. But as I get older, with bones getting brittle, I start to get nervous. 🙂

    Here is a tip that works for me: When I first go up, off that top step, I remember how and where I placed my hands and feet. Going back down, I put them in the same position. Somehow it is easier knowing you are just reversing your previous action.

    Another tip: get a good ladder. The aftermarket bars that go across the top of extension ladders also add a ton of stability. A good ladder might look expensive until you compare it with the cost of a fall. A ladder is a good thing to share with a neighbor.

    Thanks for the weather tip by the way. It made me jump up and start out blowing out my gutters (I use a leaf blower, it is fast and easy). Sure is easier when it is dry. We are supposed to get rain tomorrow too.

  16. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau August 27, 2015 1:28 pm

    BTW, on those grinders (if you’re talking about what I think you are), you can cause the sparks to fly away from you by just hitting it with the other side of the wheel. Maybe you figured that out…

  17. Shel
    Shel August 27, 2015 3:28 pm

    I’m glad you handled your problem. Sounds like dehydration or hypoglycemia or both. A nine foot fall on a healing ankle, if you’re lucky enough to land on your feet, isn’t trivial. You had every reason to be concerned.

  18. Claire
    Claire August 27, 2015 5:45 pm

    Dr. Shel — I think you’ve got the diagnosis exactly right.

    Paul — No way to aim the sparks from the angle grinder. Working in a very tight space under eaves and right next to a corbel.

    Mary — Thanks for even more ladder-related cheer. 😉 And good job dumping the sadistic boyfriend.

    Matt — IMHO, the swaying tower might have been scarier than the ladder to get up there. Hope it was worth it.

  19. Tahn
    Tahn August 27, 2015 5:45 pm

    Nowadays when I go up on the roof, even though I have a good ladder, I always have a strong rope anchored to a tree on the other side of the cabin and really like the feeling of holding on to it when I make that first step on or off the ladder. Even on the roof I keep that rope in hand or close. Of course I might end up hanging myself but I’m pretty careful about that also.

  20. Karen
    Karen August 27, 2015 5:53 pm

    Claire, you’re way ahead of me that you could go up the ladder and step off onto the roof! Yesterday I took a friend to the hospital for a knee replacement. The waiting room had an opening to view a lovely garden area on the lower floors and I couldn’t even get within 3 feet of the railing to look, even tho the railing came up to my arm pits. I just knew I’d get sucked over the railing and thrown to the ground. Fortunately, the comfy reading chairs were sufficiently far from the railing that it couldn’t reach me.

  21. Karen
    Karen August 27, 2015 5:53 pm

    PS: The house is looking fabulous! and thanks for sharing the picture of Robbie.

  22. LarryA
    LarryA August 27, 2015 10:49 pm

    Another tip: get a good ladder.
    Good advice for any tool.

    Several years ago we had two teenage girls living up the street. They decided they wanted some money, so they went around the neighborhood offering to wash windows. (Their parents were our kind of folks.) Of course we said yes.

    They told us they needed a ladder. And not a small ladder, but a big ladder. So I reached for my 16-foot extension. Their eyes went real wide. “Not that big.” We settled on my 6-foot stepladder.

    To them a “small ladder” was a kitchen stepstool.

  23. Ellendra
    Ellendra August 28, 2015 8:33 am

    “What even made you get up there in the first place? I think grandpa would have had to come get me with a forklift!”

    I was a kid, it was a farm, and there were kittens at the top 🙂

  24. LarryA
    LarryA August 28, 2015 10:22 am

    Been there, Ellendra.

    One time I asked my father when I would be a grown up. “When you start thinking about how to get out of scrapes before you get into them.”

    I suppose, one of these days, I really should grow up.

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