I figured my Saturday plans were perfect.  Jane had gotten a hydrangea for her birthday, and we needed to plant it.  This is also the time of year for spreading a thin layer of hardwood bark mulch over the shrubbery beds around the house and the borders of our yard.  We’d altered the backyard bed a little for the new plant, because it likes some sun, but morning sun rather than the withering rays of summer afternoons.  Furthermore, it was a crummy day for cycling, cool (low 40°s; is winter ever going to give it up?) and cloudy, with air so wet it could be described as “almost raining.”  I actually felt a drop now or then as the day went on.

So off I went to the grocery store to buy mulch; it’s nearer and cheaper than at the mega-hardware store.  I got nine 2 cubic foot bags for $30.  Not as cheap as it used to be, but still a decent price.  One of the hispanic stock guys loaded it for me; he was about half my size, but also about half my age and twice as strong.  We could have fit a couple more in the Audi’s trunk, and some in the back seat.  But I preferred the idea of buying as much as i could spread right then.  I got home and parked the car in the garage, from whence I could unload the trunk as I needed the mulch.  Then I got out the necessary tools: a garden rake, a spade, a shovel, a lawn rake, a narrow long-handled rake, a hand-tool rake, clippers, and scissors in case the bags gave me trouble opening them.

The hydrangea was easy to site and plant.  We had discussed a good location, and the earth was just moist enough to be easy to shovel and soft enough to pulverize if it was lumpy, as our red Virginia clay tends to be.  Following online directions, I took care not to plant it too deep, and gave it plenty of room to expand.

The mulch was pretty easy to spread, too.  I’d raked thoroughly into the late fall, so the beds had only a few patches of wind-blown winter leaves, and then the leaves that stick around and within the clustered stems of all our azaleas, barberries, and other bushes.  Some of that is picky work.  I took a little time to snip damaged or weak branches, and some cleanup was needed for the many twigs and small branches that fell in the late-winter wet snowstorms.  Once all that refuse was raked into a couple of trash barrels, I was ready to spread the mulch.  I carried it back one bag at a time, and dumped about half of each bag before spreading it out about 1″ thick.  I had to watch out for the Lily-of-the-Valley shoots, and work around the shrubs and plants, but the work went smoothly.  Nine bags later I had gotten from the back right corner of the yard all the way past the hydrangea to right about the edge of the first holly tree, where our small, exclusive cat pet cemetery is.  About 9 to 11 more bags should do the rest of the back.

As I was getting upward in the “bags spread” count, I noticed a certain fatigue.  But I didn’t think much of it, and had no reactive symptoms.  I knew I could count this as my daily exercise, though, even if it was not cycling.  A little cross-training.  When everything was picked up and put away, 3½ hours had passed.  My back was a little stiff, but I had no hint of what was in store.

On Sunday morning I got a surprise when I got out of bed and stood up.  I could scarcely walk.  My knees were inflamed, my lower legs were sore, my feet hurt to stand on, and my back was very stiff.  I’d never been in this much pain and distress because of strained or inflamed muscles.  My right knee really throbbed, even with no weight on it.  Ibuprofen is my drug of choice for such ailments, and I took a tablet right away.  No immediate effect.  In choir I could barely push myself to my feet when it was time to stand up.  My knee throbbed even more during the service.  I hobbled out at the end like an old man.  And I’m only 71.

The rest of the day was spent in static activities such as reading, writing, and watching the Nationals game, studying the players a bit.  (They rallied to beat the Mets; thank you, Mets bullpen!)  I couldn’t even imagine getting on my exercise bike for a very light spin.  By the end of the day, and 3 or 4 Ibuprofens later, things were improving slightly.  By this morning, they were much, much better.  One last anti-inflamatory and I was ready to roll.  I took off on a short 22-mile spin on the Trek and felt virtually no pain at all.  In fact, the ride cleared up the last of the lingering knee pain, as rides are wont to do.

As I say, I have never been so immobilized by overdoing physical exercise.  I figured my legs would be impervious to such activity.  I was wrong.  So from now on I will spread the mulch at a rate of more like five bags at a time, and let a few bags reside on my driveway overnight.  Pain and the consequent immobility is not fun, especially when it costs me a Sunday afternoon ride!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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