Tag Archives: knots

Knotty Problems

My father-in-law asked me to repair some woodpecker damage on his house, which then led Nancy to expect me to repair the woodpecker damage I was trying to ignore on our own house. Ok, but not from a ladder.

I have a mixed tolerance for heights. I have comfortably rappelled from 100’ cliffs, a cherry-picker bucket, and a catwalk above the old Charlotte Coliseum (the first one). I have (not quite so comfortably) assembled, worked from, and disassembled multi-story scaffolding for the masonry outfit that employed me three summers in my late teens. None of the above held anything like the panic I feel on a 24’ extension ladder. On one recent task, my essential tremor, no doubt exacerbated by my nervousness, so shook my hand that I could not get the drill/driver bit anywhere near the target screw head. Nancy had to climb the ladder to do the job for me. Add in the number of friends and acquaintances injured by falls from ladders (one just days ago), plus the particular site difficulties below these woodpecker holes, and watch me head for the rental store. Scaffolding is cheap.

Both jobs are done now, and the scaffolding returned. I am relieved. This particular scaffolding experience was not without its nervous moments, and I am wondering if my tolerance for heights is declining with age. Am I ready to hire out future jobs? A more robust ladder (mine is a bottom of the line 200 pound rating) would not dance quite so wildly as I climbed, and might give a greater measure of confidence. But is this the point where I begin to think about the role of discretion in valor? Am I done with heights?


We had loaded the scaffolding into the truck for the return to the rental store, and I was tying everything in, when Nancy said, “You need to teach me that knot.”

The trucker’s hitch. It is a rare month when I do not find more than one use for the trucker’s hitch.

Many years ago, I bought a canoe from River Sports in Knoxville. They would not let me off the lot until I had demonstrated that I could tie the canoe safely onto my car. And “safely” meant multiple trucker’s hitches, tightly cinched down. That was, I believe, one of the more useful half-hours of my life.

I realize that knot-tying has gone out of fashion, as hardware substitutes for rope and knot. But hardware does not deliver the satisfaction of a well-tied tautline hitch or a bowline. Or a trucker’s hitch. If you know them, you are in select company.

Ah, the bowline! In my early twenties, I was privileged to be an Assistant Scoutmaster in a very active and rigorous troop. My own scouting days had been spent in a less-than-rigorous troop, and these kids taught me a lot. Including the bowline.

The bowline is a troublesome knot. It begins with a loop, and then you enter the loop, either from the back or the front, depending on which way you flipped the loop. To this day, I usually require more than one try to get it right. There is a mnemonic, “the squirrel comes out of the hole, around the tree, and back down into the hole,” that frankly never helped me one bit.

But, if you need to tie a bowline around your chest, as my climbing/rappelling young Scout charges often did, that’s a quick and simple, one-handed task. In the knot-tying relays, our troop always won. While the other troops were standing still, trying to figure out which way the squirrel was to come out of the hole, our boys were tying the bowline on the run, and our second leg of the relay was underway before the competition got the squirrel back into the hole.

I never learned splicing, and probably won’t. But my latest rope purchase came with some knot-tying instructions, including some I am not familiar with. Those instructions are here somewhere in my piling system. When they re-surface, I intend to learn some more knots.


Here’s one for the “If we can put a man on the moon …” category.

I am waiting for delivery of a replacement debit card. It has been in the mail for five business days. The bank will not get worried until two weeks have elapsed.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a cheap shot at the postal service or government efficiency. Those guys work against great odds, including Congress and you and me. However, during this same interval, the same postal service both returned a disk to Netflix and delivered my next one. Two way service in three business days.

And it is not just the postal service. The bank took more than a week to get that card out the door and into the mail. My last electronic funds transfer took three days. Them’s mighty slow electrons, my friend.

Reminds me of when I worked for a well-known high-tech firm that did, among other things, large complex computer systems. Payday was one week after the end of the pay period. In order to get the payroll out in time, they required timecards two days BEFORE  the end of the time period. If your projected two days turned up surprises, you then filed an amended timecard on the first day of the next time period.

Apparently, that company is not alone. My all-time favorite Dilbert cartoon has him complaining about just that phenomenon, having to turn in his timecard before the end of the period. When the harassed secretary asks him how long he is going to continue bothering her, he replies, “According to my timecard, ten more minutes.”