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How do you bag a lilac bush?

I'LL have this yard cleaned up in two hours,'' I say. ``Uproot that lilac bush, pull a few weeds, and voil`a!'' But I'm seeing only the surface. Once I begin, the dead bush becomes half a forest and the patch of weeds becomes oceanic in its expanse. The two hours I assessed become 20.

It's fascinating, though, to delve past the surface of the yard's long-ignored sore spots. When I reach down to grab the weeds at their roots, I am frequently surprised to be stopped short by hidden objects.

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The things I find include a long-lost kitchen item, a pocket game in which I'm supposed to roll two BBs onto the eyes of a bear's face (this task alone will account for two of my hours), and a decayed implement of possible archaeological value. (I believe it's a tool from an ancient civilization until I decipher its inscription, ``Gus's Hardware.'')

One must never tackle a chore such as the uprooting and disassembling of a lilac bush without first locating one's gardening gloves. But finding them often requires a quest of Lewis and Clark proportions. The smartest approach, I decide, is to go directly to places I'd least expect my gloves to be. I might find one at the bottom of an empty watering can, another in the pocket of a military uniform. The point is that gardening gloves are shrewd and know how to hide.

Once they are found, I recall that the reason I needed the gloves was to protect those areas of my hands that would contact the wood. Now I see that, logically enough, the gloves have worn holes in precisely those areas that are inclined to make contact. Oh, well, maybe I can get used to picking things up with the backs of my hands.

Next, I locate my trusty pruning shears, imagining that they will cut through the wood like a hot knife goes through butter. In reality, these dull blades accomplish less by cutting than by wearing down the wood's resistance, with the aid of my constant applications of pressure and friction. So the cutting is a slow process -- something like erosion.

But since the trash collectors frown on being presented with an intact, eight-foot bush, I must reduce the thing to manageable pieces that can be placed in plastic garbage bags.

Although this is not a bramblebush, I find that nature has certainly supplied this plant with sharp edges and woody protuberances. No doubt these were evolved in case someday the plant would have to defend itself against a plastic sack, for I find myself with a ripped bag which has to be contained inside a new bag.

After a little jouncing, the bag that bagged the bag has to be bagged. Then I have to bag the bag that bagged . . . but I'll stop here for fear that my language might become repetitive.

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Regarding the bagging process, the tendency, when one has cut a branch from a bush, is to try to force it into the sack without going to the bother of reducing it further to foot-long bits of wood. It's possible to do this.

But the whole nature of branch growth is to extend outward, and once wrestled into a bag, a branch, by nature of this outstretched design, will occupy maximum space with minimum content.

In other words, I find that my bags are nine-tenths air. And I have used 18 plastic sacks where the more patient cutter might have used a well-compressed three. Oh well, at least I'm done.

Now I have time to inspect the vast fleet of trash bags that fill my garage and to remember the old days when there used to be room in there for my car. My neighbor informs me that the trash collectors will take only three cans and two bags.

The next morning, I find myself standing on the curb in my bathrobe at 6 o'clock bargaining with trash collectors who seem quite skilled in negotiation. I say, ``Look, how 'bout if I leave no cans, will you take eight bags? . . . OK, how 'bout one can and six bags? . . . OK, one can and five. I can't go any lower. . . .''

As for my yard, perhaps removing those weeds and branches has robbed it of a bit of mystery, but I get to like this clean look. It grows on me. And it's satisfying to know that, through prodigious effort, I effected this change. And in the process, I refined my skills -- if not for doing yardwork, then certainly for getting the BBs on the bear's eyes.

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