It was supposed to be a day of skydiving, but the weather wasn't cooperating. Wouldn't you know that it would clear up just in time for a bit of yard work. You'd think the weather gods would pay more attention. But then, maybe they were.

I've only owned the house since August, and didn't manage to get the previous owners out until mid-September. Moving's not something you do all at once, and by the time the inside of the house was in a state to be livable and comfy, we'd gotten well into November and though things don't quite die in the winter in this part of California, they do grow more slowly.

Which was a blessing, really -- my semi-ex L. (there's a story in itself) didn't uncover any of the yard tools until last week. She dropped them off while I was soggy and in the middle of washing my motorcycle, and she and J. just dropped everything in a pile in the middle of the garage.

So here I was, yard tools, sunny day, no excuses. Well, I could have gone skydiving, but no one's better at nagging me than I am, and I just couldn't do it. In retrospect, it's quite possible that this was a mistake, but we'll get there soon enough. I took stock. What exactly was bugging me the most? Definitely the hedge. It had little sprouts all over and looked very unkempt.

In this neighborhood there are no sidewalks, and the streets are all narrow and winding. When you park, you pull as far off the road as possible, just to leave the road passable. But we're also on the side of a hill, with lots of trees. I think some of the neighbors' landscaping was done purely with the intention of keeping folks from parking in front of their house. But I should talk, I've got this five and a half foot tall hedge that runs most of the length of my property, leaving space for one car and the driveway.

I own exactly one powered yard tool and it's not the lawn mower. I always felt guilty about buying a powered mower because I've always had so little grass. Hedges though, I've always had quite enough of to justify an electric trimmer. Of course it hadn't been used in about five years. But it still ran, and made really short work of the hedge, so to speak. I didn't really shorten the hedge at all, but it looks so much nicer after a trim.

That took all of twenty minutes and having done it I felt cocky and ready to take on the next task, which was a plum tree. I may sound like I know what I'm doing here, but I don't really have a clue about plants. Okay, I have a tiny bit of a clue. Enough of one that it was pretty obvious that the tree was in need of a trim too. I'm not sure how long it had gone without one. At least a year, maybe two. The tops of the branches were tangling with the phone lines, and that couldn't be good.

I swapped my hedge trimmer for a nasty looking tool for branches. It has a little tiny clipper at the end of a very long pair of handles. I have no idea what it's called, but it's really good at trimming branches. I'd hate to get a finger stuck in it. Anyway, I went round and round, trimming and trimming. And hardly making a dent. Eventually I got most of the reachable stuff and discovered that wasn't even going to be close to sufficient.

So I went for the ladder. It's an old ladder, wood and little wobbly metal bits. It worked great when I bought it ten years ago, but it doesn't seem to quite be holding up the way I'd like, and did I mention my house is on a hill? Not a good combination, I think. Some of those branches were rather thick, and most of them were rather high too. I kept walking up and down that ladder, and moving it. Over and over.

Eventually I took a break. I'd been working on that tree for over an hour. I grabbed a soda and nearly dropped it my arms were so tired. Okay, take a break. Have lunch. Watch some TV. Check tree. Yep, still there. Alrighty then, looks like I'll have to finish the job.

So I continued. Only this time I was standing on the top step. With the cutters waving over my head trying to get the higher branches. Why do the neighbors always pick times like this to wave hello as the walk by? Eventually I got to the point where there were only three branches that really had to come down. Thick ones. Ones that needed a saw.

But I had no saw. I made a quick trip down to the hardware store and came back with a nice bow saw. By this time the light was fading a bit. So, there I was, standing on the top step of a wobbly wooden ladder, on a hill, sawing like a mad woman. One branch down. Two. Halfway through the last and highest branch the ladder did something that ladders are not intended to do. It twisted. Looking down I saw that one of the metal latches and popped out sideways and was looking decidedly unlatchlike. I slowly got down off the ladder and inspected the damage.

There is no way I was going back up on that thing. Time for a new ladder, but it was getting dark. D. had come over and helped me gather up all the branches. I'd swear I cut down at least a tree's worth. I was nowhere near finished with the yard, but it'd have to wait for another weekend.

Just as well. I was tired, I was achy, and I'd completely forgotten about my allergies. The sneezing fits started about an hour later. But when I got up the next morning, getting ready for work, it was still standing there. One branch raised high, giving me the finger.