Wednesday, March 7, 2012

For the Want of a Nail

A Three-Ladder Job, 2012

 You probably recall the old proverb about how “the kingdom was lost…for the want of a nail.” I was taught when I was young that if you don’t take care of little things as they occur they tend to grow into bigger things that can overwhelm your ability to address them. I haven’t always heeded this lesson. But it has never proven less than true.
Years ago I discovered that my mother had been driving around for a couple of years in a car with a malfunctioning air bag system. When I asked her how she had passed Virginia’s mandatory annual vehicle safety inspection she shrugged and said the guy who did her inspections said not to worry about it. (Nothing, apparently, a little duct tape across the flashing dashboard warning light couldn’t resolve.)
I wasn’t half as concerned about the air bags as I was about what else the guy might have overlooked.
Closer to home, the picture above shows the team of guys who’ve been swarming around our house the last few days. Living where we do we have to be doubly mindful of moisture, mold and rot. We take care of our house. Still, little things get by you from time to time.
Like the flying squirrels I wrote about not long ago. They’d likely been wintering in our attic for years. But it was only when the larger gray squirrels followed them in and started munching on the woodwork that I knew I had to so something. 
It’s not like I didn’t know work needed to be done. Several springs ago I started noticing pileated woodpeckers pecking away at the wooden fascia boards that trim the roofline and corners of our house.  They’re pretty birds. But they were eating our house! I thought they were eating the wood. But it turns out they were pecking through the wood to reach the wood bees that had gone unnoticed burrowing into the fascia boards.
At first I’d just stick my head out the window and yell at the woodpeckers to scare them away. This is the kind of ridiculously foolish mitigation Rebecca Costa describes in her fine book, The Watchman’s Rattle, which I strongly recommend, by the way, if you haven’t heard of it.
The flaws in my mitigation strategy were pretty obvious. Consequently, the woodpeckers left the fascia boards on our house looking like Swiss cheese. 
My second, and also futile, mitigation strategy was to fill the holes made by the woodpeckers and then repaint. That’s when I discovered that the damage was larger and deeper than I could see from the ground.
That’s when I also realized just how uneasy I am working on tall ladders. The peak of the roof over the main part of our house is so high that I’ve been told I could fit a third floor underneath it if I wanted. I don’t, but the fact remains that our roof is higher than I want to be.
So the bees and the woodpeckers continued their annual picnics on the house. I knew I should be doing something. But it was just too easy to overlook. Then a couple of hurricanes did some more damage and the gray squirrels joined the demolition team. I had no choice but to get serious about this assault of nature.
It turns out contractors don’t like my roof, either. The actual repair carpentry involved is relatively easy.  Doing it nearly forty feet off the ground is another thing.
But it seems that if you throw enough money at the task you can find a reputable contractor whose crew will tackle the job.
There was talk initially of placing scaffolding around the house. But everyone agreed that while that would be the most comfortable approach it would also be inefficient and costly overkill. So the contractor’s team settled on a multi-ladder strategy. They even make it look entertaining, which at this price makes me think I should have invited some friends over to watch the show.
A Four-Ladder Job, 2012

A Little Higher, Please, 2012


  1. Haaa--great photos. I'm glad I'm not in that line of work--my fear of heights is even evident on a small step ladder. I'm in awe of people who can do this kind of work. We have seen and heard woodpeckers at our place, too--and we've seen those bees drilling into the deck at times. We need a new deck, to be honest...I don't even want to think about it...

  2. As a reformed nail bender I can say that A) you should have invited the neighbors over, charged admission and sold over price refreshments because B) those guys on the ladders are nutz and refreshments always cost more at circuses, monster truck shows and anywhere else that it's likely at least one performer will end up dead or in ICU before the show is over.