Murphy’s Law of Yard Work

I suppose everyone is familiar with Murphy’s Law, commonly stated as “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Numerous corollaries and similar “laws” have been proposed—so many that for several years Price/Stern/Sloan published page-a-day “Murphy’s Law” calendars with content from Arthur Bloch. I seem to have had those calendars in several years, judging from the dusty laminated pages tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk. But one of my favorites is one that has been retyped onto an index card, the entry from April 12, 1997:

Westheimer’s Rule

To estimate the time it takes to do a task, estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by two, and change the unit of measure to the next highest unit. Thus we allocate two days for a one-hour task.

This rule was proven on a couple of days in early August. I’d been working for some time at the back of the Old Library property, but I had noticed that a lot of tall weeds had grown up between the stones in the dry-stone retaining wall in front. So I thought I’d spend a few minutes—maybe half an hour—pulling them up. If I’d known I’d end up spending over six hours weeding, raking, and sweeping the wall and sidewalk, I might have saved the project for another day. And in fact another day was required to finish the job, as I had finished the long part of the wall south of the library entrance but hadn’t touched the shorter portion north of it. I had figured on 1–2 hours for that, and it took 3½. So in the last analysis the original half-hour job took two days!

After the passage of several weeks, the weeds were back—not as many or as tall, but still needing attention. As mentioned in my previous post, I’d tried spraying them with vinegar. This had no noticeable effect. Now, however, armed with a new weapon—the edger, I figured I could do at least part of the job without manual labor. This is where Murphy’s Law comes in, I guess, as I wasted a lot of time trying to get the edger to do what it was supposed to do. I finally realized that it had run out of string. I had a backup spool, but I was a little leery of replacing it without reference to the book of instructions (calling it a “book of instructions” is generous, since it’s just one big folded sheet with a lot of line drawings accompanied by cryptic explanations in several languages). As it turns out, the job is dead simple and almost impossible to mess up, but I managed to do so, so that slowed me down for a while longer.

And then the wheels kept falling off. The wheels can be attached in any of three ways, one for edging and two for using the trimmer as a “mini mower.” My husband and I struggled with the “instructions” to finally figure out all three variants and concluded that it would never be worth the trouble to move them from the edger position. (In fact, only once have I attempted the task of converting the edger to a trimmer and back, and that was challenge enough.) Even though I knew, in principle, how the wheels were supposed to go on, it took me forever to actually do it properly—and then they fell off again. Apparently a loose screw in the bracket they slide onto (now fixed).

As previously documented, I have a historical difficulty in “Getting to Job 1,” and yesterday was no exception. By the time I’d amused myself by edging most of the street side of the sidewalk and raking leaves down from the retaining wall and the grass above it, then sweeping and gathering up all this debris. I had little time left to attack the actual planned weeding. But I had accomplished the satisfying task of edging along the top of the wall, where for some distance there is actually a concrete “curb.” So the wall already looks a lot neater even without weeding, which I’ll get to on my next visit, when I hope it will be cooler. I’d gotten used to working in the shade, and a lot of my work had been on hands and knees (pulling up camphor and smilax roots). Yesterday, working much of the time in full sun, standing up, I remembered why my earlier workdays had left me so totally exhausted!

The one small stretch of wall that I actually weeded

The sidewalk edged on both sides

Part of the “curb” at the top of the wall

A parting shot of the library entrance, where I’d swept all the leaves off the steps

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