There are Springtime rituals—semi-annual rituals, actually because they need doing in the Fall of the year as well—that I harbor a deep and abiding loathing for. Among those items, and very high on the list of most detested, is the cleaning of the rain gutters. Five years and about one full week ago it occurred to me that I had let the gutters go unattended for at least two years. My first actual hint was in looking up at the back of the house and noticing a forest of tiny maple tree sprigs peeking over the top of the gutters and waving happily in the gentle late spring breeze.

There stands a massive old maple tree on the southeast corner of the house, and three more just like it lining the property along the north, or rear, of the little ranch style abode. All of them tower over the roof and its rain gutters, with the eastern one third of the house having a hip roof, providing V-shaped channels for rain, snow melt, seed pods and Autumn leaves to flow directly into corners where the gutters make ninety-degree angles on their way around the perimeter. Lovely to look at, impractical for providing unimpeded water flow to downspouts. In other words they clog with debris .

Now, then…finally we come to the point: I present for your edification and amusement the tale as I recorded it five years ago, when at last I manned-up and did what Harry Homeowner is meant to do.

“I’ve waited for two days for the most revolting odor I’ve ever encountered to leave my hands. I’ve scoured, I’ve scrubbed, I’ve very nearly boiled away the offending flesh to rid myself of this sickening stench, and still, as I look at the piteously wounded appendages, I catch the faint, fetid aroma of something gone terribly, unutterably wrong.

It started out simply enough…I had climbed my six-foot aluminum ladder with my best hammer in hand to re-attach the 40-odd year old rain gutters that have taken to pulling themselves out of their moorings every month or so (yes, I’m a cheap schmuck who hasn’t laid out the bucks to replace them) all the way around the house. Now…picture a man who long ago waved bye-bye to middle age, teetering on the edge of disaster at the top of a ladder that simply doesn’t give a rip about setting firmly on its four tiny feet, or about said aging gent pounding furiously like a maddened piston against—and in the neighborhood of—the worthless old aluminum spikes formerly assigned the task of holding the gutter in place. And now picture the same old fool spotting approximately 500,000 maple seed helicopters crammed into the gutter, and reasoning to himself “Better get a bucket to drop those into.”

Down the ladder, into the garage…rummage, rummage…back up the ladder, large plastic bin in one hand, the other hand hauling me up to get a decent angle at grabbing hands full of the little spinners and filling the container. So far, not bad. But then, around the corner where a downspout sets clogged and blocking a thirty foot run of accumulated rainwater and well over a million sodden, rotting helicopters. Allow me to digress for a moment…enter, aroma of decaying matter and a shudder or two of revulsion…an assault on tender nostrils. The realization that I had to dip my hands—both of them—into this infernal sludge, meant descending the ladder to place the bin nearby and then climbing back up and subjecting both hands to the task of removing this stomach-emptying clot of indescribable filth and dropping it from on high into the receptacle, which opening now had shrunk to the size of a baseball.

I have never, nor will I ever, show such courage as it required to fish around in that filthy swamp of God-knows-what. Blackened, slimy strings of unnatural gore squeezed up out of the hideous morass, clinging to my hands and forearms, resisting like living terrors my efforts to disengage them from my body and let them drop with a horrible squishy splat into and around the poor bin. The four inch wide, thirty-foot long, four inch deep pit of hellishness then took a ninety-degree left hand turn and ran down the side of the house. Millions more helicopters, all sodden and rotten, then the forty-five foot run along the front of the house. I’m fairly certain there were the decaying remains of several squirrels buried in those godforsaken troughs. They carried the scent of death and raw sewage and limburger cheese(!) An hour and more of my life I will never get back; hands that won’t come clean ever again, not completely; a nose that will never forgive me for allowing the unrelenting and unforgettable assault on its sensibilities.”

That was five years ago. If you have followed my misadventures for any length of time, you’ll not be surprised at this: I’ve learned nothing from the experience. Two years ago we replaced the battered old roof and the worth-nothing rain gutters and downspouts. One week ago I found myself up on that same ladder, staring down the length of a forest of maple helicopters and last Autumn’s billions of decaying maple leaves, all dissolving slowly into a mire of muck several inches deep in a diseased compost slurry, calling seductively for the touch of my naked hands to haul them all to freedom. If my life could parallel Odysseus’s in Homer’s “Odyssey”, my crew would lash me to the patio umbrella so I couldn’t answer the call. No such luck. Wish me well.

Contact Lloyd Davis at

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