You’ve seen the warnings: Before you dig, call.
Workmen come by, paint lines on the sidewalk and plant small flags: here’s your gas, here’s your juice, here’s your white-wine pipe (applies only to Edina), here’s your sewer pipe, which has borne a century of indignities to the public mains.
So naturally, I dug without calling. It was just the backyard, and I was planting an arbor vitae — that’s Latin for “Tree of Life.” The old one had died, making it an Arbormortus, I suppose. Got out the spade and turned the earth, and immediately hit The Wire.
It was buried about a foot down. We had met before. Every time something needs planting in this part of the garden, we encounter The Wire.
The first time I struck it with the spade was years ago, and I remember standing very still, wondering if I was dead.
A plane went overhead, but that didn’t mean anything; they probably don’t get the dead to hell in ferryboats these days when they can pack them in planes where everyone has their seat back and the drink cart is pushed around by an enormous horned crying baby who only has pretzels.
No, it wasn’t a live power wire. It seemed to extend for a good distance, but it was buried too deep to bring up. What could it possibly be?
Perhaps the house was constantly beset by electrical storms in the olden days, and the wire was intended to ground the house in case of lightning strikes. Otherwise, I guess, the lightning just hung around the house, arcing out of outlets at random intervals. You touch a metal doorknob, and your toenails shoot through your shoes and embed in the plaster, smoking.
You’d come home a week after the storm, and the cat would be a big puffed-up ball of fur with its skeleton blinking on and off. And you’d think, “Hasn’t the house drained yet? We have to get this place grounded.”
Or, at least, so I imagined. But last week while digging the pit for the new tree, we found a lattice of buried wires that seemed to form a starfish shape. They occupied the precise spot where the new tree would go, and rose up like stiff fingers. Nothing could be planted there.
“I want to get the title to the house,” I told my wife, “so I can curse everyone who did this, just to be safe. What were they thinking? Did they sell the house, then years later think, ‘Oh, should have warned them about the inexplicable wires?’ A pox on the lot of them.”
“Well, people forget ... ”
I went to the hardware store for an $8 Chinese bolt cutter, snipped the wire after some conspicuous grunting and unearthed two strange wire arrangements from the earth. They looked as if they’d been installed to keep roots in place, which leads me to believe that 80 years ago, fierce winds and small, localized tornadoes regularly carried off small trees, and they made these wire cages to hold them fast to the earth.
“The trees look nice,” my wife said when we were done.
“A pox,” I said.
There’s still some wire buried in the garden, I’m sure. I could bring it all up, but I’m horribly lazy. I’m also really worried about getting hit by lightning, and I don’t want the trees to shoot out of the ground because I snipped off the cages.
But mostly it’s the lazy part.