That Damn Sumac

Back in 2020, due to a rare confluence of finance foresight and an uncertain global economy due to an impending pandemic, we were able to purchase the empty lot next to our house. I said empty, but there were two features on the steep incline. 1) a pine tree that we nearly killed when a backhoe operator we had hired to grade our property while building our house, ran it over when it was not much more than a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, yet is now taller than the house we built.

2) A cluster of Sumac shrub bushes that was untouched for a decade and became a cluster to trees nearly as big as our house (see the satellite view below).

It was a massive fire hazard, especially due to people using the lot as a “make out point” of sorts (when we were building our house, we had some locals come up and tell us that our property was indeed where all the high school kids used to go to park to be in a secluded spot just outside the Glendale city limits) and among the trash we’d often find in and around the kindling pile of a bush would be cigarette butts and glass pipes. It was a disaster waiting to happen. So, before we even officially owned the property, I set about cutting that mofo down. I climbed down into the heart of it and started cutting every branch I could with a hand saw, then switched to an electric chainsaw, and even a battery powered chainsaw I borrowed from a neighbor. Then I’d drag the fallen trunks and branches up the hill, stacking them along the road. As the stack grew, I had to cone off the side of the road for safety. It took four days to created a wall of branches that spanned nearly 60 feet and stood over 7 feet tall.

After doing all of that work, it still cost $500 to hire a crew of guys to come haul the branch wall away, taking only a few hours. Apparently I place very little value on my own time.

That was back in August of 2020 and the remaining root balls of the cluster of trees (I counted 6 distinct, yet intersecting root balls) continued to sprout shoots all over the place. If we didn’t go out and cut them all down, we were at risk of getting the massive wall of Sumac back again. Every ‘weed abatement’ deadline had me out there hacking down the shoots with a machete and swearing that one day I’d dig up those damn root balls to stop the need to do that task in the future.

May 2024 I finally started. The first one took a few hours over two days to dig along the outside and use a shovel and hand saw to cut all the roots connecting to it. The exposed clump weighed around a hundred pounds and while I attempted to roll the thing safely down the hill, I caught my pinkie finger on one of the edges and fractured it. Talk about payback. In fact, much blood was shed while digging and cutting the rest of the roots. The root balls are so large that I have to cut them into pieces with a chainsaw to get them into the green bin (yard trimmings trash can). The largest cluster weighed as much as a car and nearly rolled on top of me when I was undermining it. My pick axe wasn’t so lucky and lives under it now. It is so large that I have had to cut it to pieces where it sits for fear that rolling it down the hill would result in it crashing through our downhill neighbor’s house.

I still need to deal with the giant crater left on my hillside and to haul all the wood up to be tossed (not to mention needing to chainsaw the pieces into smaller, more transportable chunks), but it felt good to roll the last piece down the hill.