This time of the year a few people are looking up and seeing lush, thriving, vegetation growing – in their rain gutters. These gutters have probably been full of leaves and twigs for a while. Enough compost has collected for some stray seeds to fall into it, get rained on, sprout and grow. Nature is amazing. I’ve taken plants out of gutters that have no obvious parents anywhere in sight. It’s past time for these gutters to be cleaned. In fact at this point, the gutters and facia board should be carefully inspected when they are cleaned. This much soil is full of life and activity.
I was cleaning one of these gutters several years ago. It was a typical overgrown gutter, on an un-noticed side of the house, lot’s of low overhanging limbs. The house was greatly cared for and had nice back yard features. A pretty little octagon, glass panel greenhouse stands right in the center. It even had gas heat. I’d like to drink a martini in that green house some dark winter evening with about three feet of snow on the ground and a full moon. Greenhouses are magic like that. I could see the green house from the top of my ladder, it wasn’t a winter evening, it was more like ninety degrees in August with full sun and an ozone alert going on. I was digging the gutter out, checking the facias and just generally trying to stay cool. Live plants almost two feet tall, sticks and lush grass were a foot up onto the roof. I had a handy gutter scoop tool and gloves. Getting a rhythm I starting to relax and cruise through the task. Pulling a stick half buried in the bottom of a valley on the roof, I felt the stick pull back.
This is the closest I’ve ever come to falling off a ladder. The stick was gloss black and about three feet long, it curled carefully and came toward my hand to see what had grabbed its tail. Snake. I let go and pulled my hand back so quickly I think I took two steps backward in mid air. The ladder lurched hard and I felt my center of balance swerve around. I gripped the top of the ladder and caught my balance. My heart raced. I love snakes but the surprise combined with the tipping on the ladder was pretty crazy. Kind of like tripping on a crack in the sidewalk I felt compelled to keep going like nothing happened. I laughed at myself and the few seconds I had just experienced. I watched the snake slide under the bottom of the tin valley and go into the attic. I don’t think snakes normally hang out in gutters – unless the gutters are full of water, soil, grass, bugs, mice and saplings.
This was one of those times I relive in my head when people talk about cleaning gutters or hiring the neighbor kid to do it. Falling off ladders can’t be planned for. It just happens, and in ways we can’t imagine. If you’re going to buy a ladder, get a good one. Antique ladders with wooden rungs found in estate sales are cool looking, but I wouldn’t climb one. Get a new one. Step ladders start at about two feet and go taller than you might imagine. Most step ladders found around houses are between five and eight feet high. I like the fiberglass ones. They are a little heavier than aluminum and just feel solid. Aluminum ladders are nice for their light weight. Ladders come in weight bearing categories. Most people aren’t going to carry more than about seventy pounds of gear and materials up a ladder, add that to your body weight and buy accordingly. Multi fold ladders are pretty handy. They like flat environments and require a little shimming on slopes. Do some homework on multi folds, buy a known brand and read some reviews. Extension ladders come in weight categories too. Again, the fiberglass ladders feel solid and they are not electrically conductive. If your house has overhead wires this is a good safety feature. All kinds of accessories can be purchase for step ladders. The first two I recommend for every step ladder is a ladder extension and self leveling legs. A ladder extension goes across the top like arms sticking out about eighteen inches on both sides. The extension clips to the ladder between the rungs. These things work great and make the ladder very stable. Extensions also reach over gutters really nicely keeping the ladder off the gutter itself. Self leveling legs are un-matchable when setting a ladder up on an uneven surface or stairs. Just pick the ladder up to a standing position, pick up and set down the ladder in place and the ladder is good to go. To me these are way safer and reliable than bricks, stones, gadgets and blocks placed on uneven surfaces. A solid fiberglass ladder with an extension at the top and levelers at the bottom is going to be very solid to work from. Take your time and watch for sales at paint stores and local hardware stores. Read some reviews and do your online research. Ladders are not inexpensive but if cared for will last for decades.
Finally consider your personal comfort zone. If you get anxious and freaked out about climbing a ladder you may want to consider staying on the ground. Hire a pro with liability insurance. The neighbor college kid may be willing, but ladder work is somewhat dangerous and brings some risks. Trust your guts.
I had three ladders on my truck for years. A six foot step ladder, a sixteen foot multi fold and a twenty-eight foot fiberglass extension ladder. I got rid of the twenty-eight footer after ten years of climbing it. I let someone else have those jobs now.
I’ll never forget that snake in that gutter that day. I’m pretty sure the snake moved back down to the gardens once the gutter was empty and dry. Maybe I’ll bump into her over a martini in that greenhouse someday.