As part of a backyard improvement project, I hired a couple of guys to cut back some tall bushes, almost trees, that were overgrown and hanging out into the yard. It turned out to be a much bigger project than I expected, and the yield of cut branches and dead wood crowded beneath them was ginormous.

By the time they finished trimming, the men were already late for another job, and one appeared dangerously close to heat exhaustion, so I agreed for them to leave before hauling the huge pile of branches to the street for the next brush collection. The good news is that I didn’t have to pay them for that part; the bad news is that I didn’t have another ready option.

(Yes, I insisted the ailing one come inside to cool off instead of just sitting in the shade, gave him a drink with electrolytes, and asked his son to stay with him until he seemed recovered.)

Then I went out to survey the brush pile, which was impressive from the kitchen window. Standing next to it I realized that it was half as tall as I am and probably a dozen feet long and eight feet wide – the equivalent of a decent-size room. Wow. It was daunting, for sure, and I decided I wasn’t going to panic. I’m not about to attempt using a chainsaw on top of a 10-foot ladder, but I figured that surely I could haul limbs.

After the first trip, I was more realistic about the task and decided to ask for help. I reached out to various people, and for a variety of good reasons they couldn’t help in the timeframe I needed. So, I determined that I’d do it myself.

And I did – in at least 15 trips (I lost count) out to the street and back (probably 50 yards each way), plus another half dozen treks with a wheelbarrow that I borrowed for all the small pieces. Although the project was challenging and tiring, it surprisingly became an affirming and spiritual experience. Here’s what I learned.

Resist negative thoughts. When my people couldn’t help, my abandonment/attachment issues were immediately triggered: “I’m all alone to do this hard thing”; “People don’t value me enough to extend themselves for me”; blah, blah, blah. (Yes, my head is a troubled place sometimes!) Thankfully, I recognized those trauma-based lies as quickly as they surfaced, and years of practice and the investment of a gazillion hours and dollars in therapy snuffed them quickly.

After that tilted start, as I hauled branches I reminded myself that I was deeply loved and that if my need had been an emergency, many people would have soon appeared on my doorstep, including those who couldn’t help on short notice. During each lap up and down the driveway, I thought of a specific person I knew who would show up for me during a crisis. Plenty of names were still left over by the time the pile was relocated, and I had been blessed to remember with gratitude what multiple people have done for me.

Protect yourself. After a trip or two and a stinging cut on the leg, I realized I needed to do more than exchange my flip-flops for sturdy tennis shoes. (Silly me.) Jeans and long sleeves kept any similar injuries from happening again. A brimmed hat helped, too, with both sunshade and cushioning to soften a few whops on the head.

Pace yourself. With temperatures in the mid-90s and high humidity, I knew I needed to be careful. I settled into 30-minute segments – six roundtrips each, dragging a cluster of branches in each hand – followed by 30 minutes inside. In the hottest part of the day, I extended the cooling-off and resting period to least 45 minutes and sometimes 60. I listened to my body and stopped the first day when it rebelled and said, “Nope, no more today!”

Avoid making the job harder. The workers had tossed the branches randomly on the huge pile, of course, and many were covered in clinging vines. The result was like a massive pile of spaghetti that had been glued together in places, and I was trying to extract a single strand. After fighting a few branches on the top of the pile that were toughly tangled with the ones underneath, I learned to accept that they were stuck and to move to another place. Eventually, I always found a branch that would pull free. That method messed with my OCD-driven plan to start at the front of the pile and move it “in order” from one end to the other. It also saved a lot of futile effort while desensitizing me to “the way it’s supposed to be.”

Keep perspective. When after the first couple of sets I looked at the pile of limbs in the backyard and couldn’t tell that I’d made a dent, I started paying attention to the size of the pile at the street, instead. One load at a time, the balance shifted.

Believe in yourself, put in the work, and enjoy the payoff. I was right: I was able to move the huge brush pile by myself! Over parts of two days, I steadily reduced it like a human chipper, and I’m ridiculously proud of myself. How fun when a friend stopped by and was astounded at what I’d done! Plus, the backyard seems twice as large now and is ready for the next phase in its transformation.

More importantly, I re-learned some helpful tips for healthy living. That’s a whole lot of benefit from a simple pile of brush.

Marnie C. Ferree