Sunday essay: Free chips

The pile of chips in the driveway.

Readers of my blog,, might remember that my husband is often the catalyst. My handyman hubby inspired my early written rants; ahem, I mean posts.

Hubby’s antics and misadventures were the fodder for several of my essays, published in Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Ray’s been around the house of late, a few months’ hiatus from work and plenty of projects to keep him busy. He’s toiled to finish up tasks, started over the past ten years, but never quite completed. The master bath shower project is a perfect example.

Begun before our youngest son’s wedding over four years ago, it entailed removal of a Jacuzzi tub and tiny shower from our master bathroom. Replaced by walls of floor to ceiling Italian marble and glass surround, it’s beautiful. A testament to Hubby’s talent and accomplishments as a home improvement guy, however… you knew there was a caveat coming, right? The previously mentioned son has a 2-year-old son. He and his bride of four years are expecting their second this winter.

So just how long did this project take? Every bit of the four years, and then some because…wait for it… there are still two tiles propped up at an angle on my side of the vanity, in need of a final trim and polish so they can be affixed to the wall.

One can imagine that opportunities to inspire me to write would have arisen during the past months. Outdoor activities of late, an expansion of the dogs’ play area, enclosed with 90 feet of hog-wire fence, and a complete redo of the 10-year-old cedar wood deck, these did not impinge on my personal space. Neither of these projects is completed, to date, surprise.

Vacation time is over —  my husband went back to work today.

I sit at the computer keys and hammer away in frustration, my first potential post in many a moon.

Why? Free Chip Drop.

The Northwest has an abundance of trees; most commercial and residential properties are decorated with tall pines and cedars in the landscape. Trees provide shade, ambience, even a pallet to decorate with holiday lights, but gangly branches can interfere with electrical wires. During high wind season, tall tree branches fall on cars, houses and the like. Maintenance is required to curb the abundant vegetation.

Power companies will come out and lob off branches deemed a danger to their equipment, but homeowners are on their own to protect their shingles and sedans.

Landscape companies provide a solution — they will the trim trees, run those perilous pine boughs through a wood chipper, which shoots the debris into their large trucks. What happens next? Trucks cart away those cubic yards of chipped wood and pine needles, but where?

Rather than make a trip all the way to the landfill and pay a fee to deposit the clippings and debris contained in said truck, they redistribute the material to the nearest address on their list.

Tree trimmers love to share the load. Chopped wood, pine needles and other material are offered, for free, to individuals who live nearby and indicate a desire to accept a delivery from the very same truck that has pulled away from the curb at the previous job.

Free chip drop. Everyone loves it.  We all sign up for it whenever we need to replenish the bedding amongst our landscaping, or in larger areas like our doggies’ play yard.

Who is willing to spend $400 for 20 yards of mulch material when one can get them for free? I can’t argue with that concept.

Twenty yards of shredded pine branches — a mountain of material, blocked off my entire driveway, at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.

What happened prior is the story of a nice Monday morning went bad.

Hubby discovered a cell phone is not always the best device for detailed transactions, like to sign up for a load of chips to be dropped in our driveway.

“It will be just a small load, about 7 to 10 yards,” he’d said weeks ago, when he placed his request.

His sabbatical, begun three months earlier, and he still awaited delivery of our “free” landscaping materials.

Looking at a map provided by the folks at Free Chip Drop ,we could see that practically every home in our neighborhood had recently received chips, within days of their initial requests, too.

Puzzled, he went back to the site and stared the profile he’d created. “What caused our house to be passed over, and so frequently?”

I noticed as I peered over his shoulder at his tiny screen — the cancel button was by far the largest icon visible.  I suggested that maybe, somehow, his fat finger hit cancel, instead of confirm? He snorted out a response not fit to print.

Of course my husband never makes mistakes. I forgot that part. I stood behind him. Only the dogs could see my eye roll.

After much deliberation, he logged into the site and deleted his first request, and created a new one. As he finished his update, he said, “I’ll bet we’ll get chips today or tomorrow at the very latest.”

Hubby backed the car out of the driveway over the flat piece of ply board with a large silver X, created by duct tape. He’d labeled the area to indicate where the truck should deposit its load; on his half of our driveway.

Our longstanding bargain with the process — he is the one inconvenienced, not I.  Hubby has to maneuver his car in and out the garage, around the pile of debris. Funny, how  those chips are dispersed, using this method.

Sure enough, within half an hour of his departure that morning, my husband texted me-: “Chips on the way. ETA is approximately 10 minutes.”

Ten minutes, oh perfect, it was the expected arrival of the DART bus.

Readers who are familiar with my family may recall we have a disabled adult son Nick Baker, who rides DART — Dial A Ride Access — on Mondays and Fridays. He does volunteer work at our Senior Center. He plays a lovely grand piano throughout the lunch hour to entertain the seniors while they enjoy lunch.

Nick, seated in front of the house, called out to me. “I think my bus is here.”

“Nope,” I said. “No such luck.”

What he’d heard was the landscaping company’s delivery truck loaded to maximum capacity with chips of wood, pine needles and assorted debris. It arrived ahead of the DART bus.

The truck backed into our driveway. The driver jumped out, flung open the doors and proceeded to unload.

In the past we’ve had decent success; deliveries only block one half of the driveway. My side is open and I can still back out without any problems.

Chips pour from the truck.

Today was different. This fellow had no room to maneuver. Material poured from the truck, more plentiful than the normal delivery, and it blocked all but a tiny path on one edge of the driveway.

The young man jumped back in his truck, pulled over to the curb and got back out. He slammed the two panel doors to the back of the vehicle. As I maneuvered around the edge of the giant pile of chips, our eyes met. He shrugged his shoulders and choked out, “Sorry.”

He hopped in his truck and drove away. Hey, free is free. You get what you get.

The DART bus arrived. I gingerly guided my son, his long white cane extended in front of him around the edges of the garden and up the very narrow path up to his boarding spot at the top of our drive. “Whew. Safe on board,” I said as I waved to the driver. But what to do when he returned home again.

I couldn’t even back my car out of the drive to see if Home Depot’s parking lot still had any day labor guys for hire.

Text received from husband, now at work and safely out of the range of my wrath, was an announcement.  “Success on delivery of 7 cubic yards,” he reported.  He’s received an email from the Free Chip Drop folks.

Details of what occurred, in my reply, yielded an unsatisfactory response from hubby: “May Day!”

I’ve neglected one detail. Just before his return to work, Hubby had a major injury, a hernia. He was in no shape to shovel tons of material into a wheel barrow, let alone run up and down a steep hill to deposit that debris into the dog’s run.

Back at the computer, my fingers flew as I searched the internet for landscapers in our area. It was Monday, but I prayed for someone to have a gap in their schedule that day.

Eventually we were rescued by two amazing landscapers. The mountain in our drive diminished as they transported load after load of wood chips down the hill. Hubby was awestruck at their speed and agility.

He didn’t even squawk about the bill — well, not too much anyway. As I pointed out, we did get those chips for free.

— By Kathy Passage

Long-time Edmonds resident Kathy Passage writes the Edmonds Restaurant News column for My Edmonds News, and occasionally shares her essays with us.


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