We didn't put up outdoor Christmas lights this year. (Not that we have ever set up a spectacular winter wonderland in the past; we have always put up a modest string of lights or two just so the neighbors didn't think we were a family of Scrooges.)
Simply put, I looked at the outside of our new house and realized lights could not be put up without climbing up on the roof. Longtime readers will think this is because of my recent ladder incident. Although there may be a smidgeon of truth to that, the real reason was that in my old age, I have become scared of heights.
My 12 year-old self would never have believed this. Although I certainly never did handstands on the edge of tall buildings, heights never bothered me, and I sometimes very much enjoyed them.
Back in the day, my family annually put up a somewhat elaborate display of Christmas decor including lights, wooden reindeer pulling a wooden sleigh carrying a wooden Santa Claus. After getting vandalized one year, we started putting the reindeer and sleigh on the roof as appropriate. Our two story split-level house had a lower roof on one story and a higher roof on the two-story side. Originally we put the reindeer on the lower roof but decided people might miss it if coming down the road from the opposite side. So my brother amazingly convinced my parents that we should put the reindeer on the higher roof.
We set up our ladder on the lower roof only to find it didn't quite reach. I think we were going to try it anyway by climbing up as high as possible, grasping the overhanging ledge with a hand or arm and then pulling the rest of our bodies up. Luckily smarter minds decided we should borrow the neighbor's ladder instead.
Our house also had a basement which actually sat above ground on the side and in the back. This meant a three story drop from the top roof to the concrete driveway. Of course the first thing we did up on the roof was to glance down to appreciate the long drop. Then we sat and took in the panoramic view thinking we could see the entire world. Setting up the reindeer wasn't much fun, but I loved being up on the high roof.
Flash forward thirty years to find myself standing on a ten-foot step ladder getting ready to climb on the roof of my one-story house. From the step-ladder, I would have to throw my body onto the roof while I imagined myself quickly sliding down the slope and down onto the patio below. I stood on the ladder a long time before I finally talked myself into it. I survived and learned that using the step-ladder wasn't so bad.
Ten years after that, we now had an extension ladder which should have made climbing onto the roof even easier. After a big hailstorm, I watched roofers all over the neighborhood practically sprinting up ladders and stepping onto roofs. I decided I could do the same. After chickening out a few times, I climbed up the ladder without thinking and without stopping. I made it to the roof easily.
I spent about an hour cleaning up debris and cutting branches from an overhanging tree. As I cleared the debris, I realized I wouldn't get closer than five or six feet from the edge. The closer I got, a nervousness grew in my stomach. I imagined myself getting dizzy and threw branches from as faraway from the edge as I could.
"This is strange," I thought. "I've never felt like this before. I still remember running around on the top roof of my parent's house never worried about falling."
When I finished I walked back to the ladder and sat down on the roof. I realized I would have to go to the edge to climb down the ladder. I slowly slid down the roof from my sitting position until I rested next to the ladder. I turned and tried to set my left foot on a rung only to push the ladder away. Luckily it didn't fall but that made me sit back down and rethink my predicament.
After a few more failed attempts, I realized the ground was only about ten feet down. A jump wouldn't be so bad. Or better yet, if the gutter could support me, I could just slide down, hold onto the gutter then drop easily to the ground. I seriously contemplated this until I realized the gutter would never support me. Twenty minutes later, probably too tired to care anymore, I finally managed to slowly get my feet on the ladder and climb down.
There are other incidents which make me think I'm scared of heights now, but being afraid to go on the roof has mystified me. Maybe it's just a matter of age perspective:
Twelve-year-old self probably looked down and thought, "If I land just right and drop to the ground like a paratrooper, worst case scenario is a broken arm or leg."
Current self looks down and thinks, "If I fall, best case scenario is a broken arm or leg."