Careless. Wreckless. Prideful. These are all adjectives that could be used in describing me last week when I fell off a large boulder behind our house.

These harsh adjectives are better than other descriptors I could have been given if things had, in a split second, gone another way. Some that come to mind are: Death. Memorial service. Quadraplegic. Paraplegic. Living vegetable. Leaving a widow and two adult children.

Or milder but still serious things could have happened, such as a broken hip, crushed shoulder, broken neck, major internal injuries, or other imaginable calamities. It is the clear possibility of other outcomes that I find especially sobering this week.

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday of last week, I had been nearing completion of annual late-winter pruning of our various trees, shrubs, and perennials. I still had weeding and mulching to do, but I could see the end of the work for this season.

I had been bothered by a broken branch in a large black walnut tree behind our house. The branch, about five inches in diameter, had snapped in a windstorm, did not completely break off, and rested on a lower branch. Rather than call a tree service, being a self-sufficient miser with a strong likelihood of some frugal Scottish genes, I kept thinking I could get on the roof of our house near the branch and dislodge it with a pole saw that I use on occasion. I just had not gotten around to it.

As I wrapped up pruning for the day, I noticed a small dead tree that had fallen over after succumbing to a prolonged drought. The tree had been growing along with other small trees and other plants on top of a large boulder under that walnut tree with the broken branch. After I removed the little dead tree, I decided to walk up onto the boulder from the upper side and looked straight overhead at the large broken branch. As I pondered the best angle from which to try to saw down the branch, still looking up at it, I moved my right foot, without thinking, back onto open air. My fall began.

Instantly, my world switched to slow motion. I could see only my left foot in touch with the boulder, my right foot out over the canyon below, and I began my descent. Wearing a pair of heavy leather work gloves, I grabbed a small tree trunk that was about an inch and a half in diameter, trying to stop my fall. By doing that, my right lower leg and knee swung around and scraped down the side of the boulder. In the next instant I landed mostly on the right side of my back with a deadening thud.

The wind was knocked completely out of my sails. I realized my broad-brimmed straw hat was still on, as I struggled to regain my breath. I lay there for a bit to make sure I could still move my arms and legs. I could. I checked my smartphone in the left front pocket of my jeans, and it was unharmed. Ellen was reading a book upstairs, but I didn’t want to call and alarm her.

Here's the lower side of the boulder I fell from, with a leaf rake and my son-in-law Luke shown for perspective. My daughter Joy took the picture.

Here’s the lower side of the boulder I fell from, with a leaf rake and my son-in-law Luke shown for perspective. My daughter Joy took the picture.

Slowly I got to my feet. Standing briefly, I felt pain in my right hand. I removed my glove and saw that my middle finger was in a near S-shape, dislocated at the knuckle below the nail. Having dislocated the same knuckle years earlier, I grabbed my finger with my left gloved hand and popped the finger back into place. It only hurt a little compared to my back.

Relieved that I could walk, I made my way slowly back up to our side yard, put my bucket of tools away, and removed my work boots to go inside. I made my way upstairs, past Ellen’s door where she was still reading, and told her I was headed for the shower.

As I stepped out of the shower, Ellen walked in and first saw my lower right leg. She asked what on earth happened, and I began explaining how I fell. Then I turned around and showed her my back. She immediately asked if she should call 911 or take me to the emergency room. I said I thought I’d be okay, that I was just scraped and bruised.

The next day I moved slowly, but we went out to lunch and enjoyed it greatly. My appetite was unaffected. However, I was in a lot of pain and I could not hide it as I got into and out of chairs and the car. The previous night was very painful getting into and out of bed. Basically, it just plain hurt to move.

On Friday morning after breakfast Ellen and I agreed that she should take me to the emergency room. After X-rays and a CAT scan we learned that I had broken two ribs, Numbers 9 and 10, and vertebra L4 just left of my spine in my lower back. There were no apparent internal injuries. The emergency room doctor, a senior physician, began to talk with me about how lucky I was and about how horribly my fall could have gone. I agreed. I had already thought about such things.

Later I began to think about causative factors. While I’m not sure what they all are, some of them are these:

  • Did pride get in the way of my calling a tree service for help with that broken branch in the walnut tree? In reading about pride, I came across an apt quote from John Ruskin, who said, “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.” It led me to think about other mistakes I’ve made and how pride played an important part.
  • Why am I willing to take unnecessary risks to avoid paying the cost of a professional to help? Somehow, it seems like a sign of weakness to ask for help. I am not poverty-stricken and could easily afford to hire someone.
  • Days away from my sixty-ninth birthday, is my stubbornness related to not wanting to lose my independence? Am I getting more stupid as I get older, rather than wiser? I’m reminded of a funny line I read a few years ago in Lachlan’s Laws,  “Wisdom comes with age – but sometimes age comes alone.”

I have resolved over the past week to live smarter. I have resolved to call a professional to remove that broken walnut branch. I have resolved to be more careful working outside. I have resolved to be safer, to take no chances that could lead to obvious catastrophic outcomes.

Now the challenge is to see if I can live up to those resolutions.