The View from My Section – A Father’s Perspective: Starting from Within: A Lesson in Problem Solving

Just before the start of Spring, during my routine walk-about the yard to see what things needed to be done before the growing season begins again, I saw it. The huge wild holly bush in the back corner of the yard – my nemesis. It stood about eight feet tall and six feet wide. It began as a small, six-inch bloom in the natural area and grew over time. It didn’t make sense in this part of the natural area, and I wanted to cut it down years earlier, but my wife liked it and said we could decorate it at Christmas. We never did. For me, it was just a reminder of something I needed to remove someday. Well, I decided, this would be the year. It was beginning to become an even bigger problem than size, as sprouts coming off the roots were springing up around it, only to eventually form additional hollies. So, it was time.

The problem was its tall size. The leaves had small spikes on the ends and scratched you every time you got near them. And, the branches by now were relatively thick. So, I knew it was going to be a challenge, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Yet another reason why it took me so long to get to this point.

My question was how I was going to get up there high enough using a ladder and contorting my older, less nimble body to cut thick, sharp spiked branches. I knew I would have to lean over in an unsafe position, to say the least, not to mention the toll it would take on my aging back. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Peter McWilliams, “The willingness to do creates the ability to do.” I know, I should have done it sooner, but it was too late for regrets now.

I thought about it for a couple of days, in between doing other things. Then it occurred to me, what would my now 97-year-old father do in my situation? He’s a closet engineer, in that his actual occupation was a train station manager for the railroad for more than 40 years in his day; that’s why he’s always good at solving complex problems. Once, he was by himself and wanted to move a heavy oak wall unit in his bedroom from one side to the other. Why it had to be done at that moment is another question. Anyway, not having any help, he devised a plan. He took a long broom handle (the bristles had broken off on the end) and placed it on the floor beside the unit. Then he pushed one side upward just enough to slide the broom handle under it a few inches. Next, he went to the opposite side and pushed upward on the unit. When he did, the wall unit rolled over the broom handle about three feet at a time. He would then repeat the procedure until he had moved the heavy unit across the room to the precise spot to his liking. Pretty smart. In the words of Elaine Sparling, “Where some see barriers, others see opportunities.”

So, thinking like my dad, I had an idea I would prune some branches on the wild holly to the base at about shoulder height. I would do this in a circular pattern all around the same level. Once I had cleared an opening about 10 inches tall, I would use my hand saw to saw off the top portion. At that point, with the shrub at a manageable height, I could continue cutting it down the rest of the way. Let me say to those who may know this trick already, I do not have a green thumb, so landscaping techniques are not my specialty. A few days later, I tried it and it worked flawlessly. Well, minus a few scratches on my arms (that’s with long sleeves on). My wife watched me from the window thinking it was going to take me all afternoon. But, I actually got it down within a reasonably short period, and then had to haul away the brush.

As I sat back to rest a moment afterward and admire my work, I realized I had indeed tackled this problem like my dad. Some may say unconventionally. I like to think it’s out-of-the-box thinking. Realizing, sometimes to tackle a problem you have to start from the inside rather than from the outside looking in. I felt quite pleased with my creative approach. Of course, I still hadn’t earned the “green thumb” label. It was more like Zig Ziglar says, “I believe success is achieved by ordinary people with extraordinary determination.” Consider me ordinary and very determined.

I initially thought I’d learned the lesson from this old, wild holly bush that had weighed on me for years. But, perhaps, it’s yet another lesson from my dad rubbing off on me. I suppose they both played a role in imparting this bit of wisdom.

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