Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

I view ladders as an essential part of home ownership. How else do you clean gutters and trim trees?

Cheryl is phobic about them. She knows multiple cases of locals who have sustained major injuries from ladder tumbles.

The older I get, the more she worries that ladders will be the death of me.

I’m just fine on a ladder, I say. Rock solid.

Until you fall off one, she responds.

Her words were in my head in December when I went up and cleaned the first-story gutters on all four sides of our house. This required mounting a 7-foot stepladder on the deck, climbing to the top and then, using a trellis beam, hoisting myself onto the roof.

A dicey move? In 10 years, maybe, but not now. I can do this!

Wary of my bravado, Cheryl made a point of not looking.

The gutter cleaning was intended to be the end of my roof work for 2019, but we began hearing a sharp tap-tap-tap at Christmastime outside our home. A woodpecker had begun to drill holes near the peak of our second story fascia.

Shoo, shoo, we yelled. The pecker flew back to his telephone pole across the street. But the next day the critter was back.

We went crazy. This misdirected bird was reducing our house to Swiss cheese and we didn’t know what to do.

I recalled being handy as a teenager with a BB gun, but that would be a bad solution on many levels.

We decided on a strategy of distraction. Cheryl cut up 12-inch strips of shiny Mylar. It would be my job to pin them to the fascia 20 feet off the ground.

Was I nervous? Of course I was. And Cheryl was emphatic that she couldn’t watch.

I again used the stepladder to get onto the porch roof, then I hauled up an aluminium extension ladder capable of getting me to within a foot of the second story peak if I extended my arms.

Carefully, very carefully, I tacked the Mylar strips near the woodpecker holes. They began crackling in the breeze. What bird could tolerate such commotion?

We were right. Woodpecker problem solved, although the front of our house with its carnival geegaw looks ridiculous.

Having survived my two-ladder, anti-woodpecker campaign, I felt comfortable using the 7-foot ladder last weekend to trim our modest-sized Gravenstein tree. Piece of cake.

And it was, except at the end I had to climb into the tree to cut the tall growth in the center. I made quick work of it.

But as I angled my body out of tree to return to the ladder, there was a frightful crack. The limb beneath my feet snapped. I plummeted.

Cheryl was 50 feet away. Hearing the snap, she watched the whole thing play out in slo-mo.

Not quite believing what was happening, I fell serenely. Cheryl was the terrified one. She came running.

I fell onto soft earth. But for a stinging pain in my right foot, I felt surprisingly OK and attempted to get up.

Cheryl wouldn’t let me. You’re in shock, she said.

I got a good talking-to about the dangers of ladders, although technically this was a tree-limb fall, not a ladder one, and had to promise to stay off them unless she was present to monitor my ascent and descent.

The fall could have been worse. My foot turned purple, but I was walking unassisted the next day.

Reassured by my promise of no more solo ladder climbs, Cheryl went to visit a son in Sacramento, leaving me to my own devices. Almost immediately I heard the return of the tap-tap-tap.

It was the same malicious woodpecker, this time attacking the backyard peak.

Battle stations!

With the structural integrity of our house on the line, I got out the stepladder and the extension ladder and attached more Mylar strips.

When Cheryl returned later that afternoon, I walked her into the backyard and had her look up. The shiny strips were flapping with the majesty of the American flag over the White House.

Obviously I had used two ladders and had climbed high, perhaps risking life and limb, but Cheryl did not rebuke me.

How could she? Woodpecker gone!

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.