OK I admit it. I like to get hits on my blog. Seriously, if you live in the country, sooner or later a big old tree on your property is going to die. It will rot and pose a threat to power lines, your car parked in the driveway or various life forms passing by. So, the tree gets cut down by the power company if you are lucky like my friend and there you are, left with an ugly old stump. I recently read Peter Wohlebon’s great book, ” The Hidden Life of Trees” in which he made a wonderful case for the life-giving properties of dead old trees in the forest. I felt a bit guilty participating in this whole process but then I remembered I don’t live in the forest and, anyway, a rose garden is planned for the stump site.
Unlike the pioneers, most of us don’t have a team of oxen to pull out stumps, so here are a few helpful hints for those embarking on this task. You’ll need some tools: a saw, an axe, a hoe, a small harrow, a narrow shovel, dry newspapers, kindling and narrow pieces of waste wood like chair legs to stuff in between the roots of the tree, large metal plates of tin or aluminum to put over the fire site to keep it under control, gasoline and perhaps the most important tool of all, a large metal ring to contain what will be your main asset in this whole operation….fire! The ring we used is iron, salvaged from the dump. It was part of some sort of pipe ( water maybe?) and originally encased in some concrete and mesh. My friend paid $75 for it, which is a phenomenon in itself. If you plan on bonfires in the summer or engage in any country activity which requires fire control, it is invaluable.
The intangible tools are determination, patience, time and a steady temperament. You will need a sort of fascination with picking away at a project and the ability to ” let go” and not try to do the whole job in one day. A note about safety…this job involves fire and sharp tools and so is irresistible to kids. You need one designated person to closely supervise young kids who might be hanging around the site. Banishing them seems a bit mean to me. Why deprive them of the pleasure of messing around with fire, ashes and axes? Oh, if you have close neighbors, you should give them notice that the area will be smoky from time to to time. The stump we attacked was close to the road so people stopped and stared or gave advice, criticism or told stories of how they or relatives close or distant got rid of stumps. ( dynamite, seriously?) they regaled us with stories of how stumps were transformed into sundials, picnic tables or flower planters. Fascinating as all this may be, at one point you have to stop leaning on the hoe, nod sagely, heave a deep sigh and mutter, ” Well, better get back to it”
This task can take from three days to a week depending on the size of the stump and how perfectly flat you want the area to be when you’re finished. The damp cool days of fall are perfect for this work. You don’t want to tackle it in mid summer because of the risk of brush or forest fire. Also, playing around with flames and smoldering ash is not my favourite week-long pastime when it’s 30 degrees. I’d rather go for a dip in the lake or lie in a hammock with Dickens and a tall drink.
Wear old clothes and boots you don’t mind ruining and keep in mind you’ll need a shower and shampoo every evening when you’re through for the day. You’ll stink like the bottom of an old ashtray
This is a two or three-person job. It’s kind of lonesome to do it alone but more people might get in the way. The stumps of old trees are big and the roots extend, deep and thick on all sides. Having worked on this for the past three days, I am in awe of Canadian pioneers who cleared scores of such stumps off their land to create farms. During this process, a strong person will have to hack away at the stump with an axe. The aim is to get down close to the earthand to expose as many roots as possible. Keep,in mind that earth and ash extinguish fire so little by little scrape this stuff out with the harrow or the hoe. That way, your kindling and small logs will have oxygen to burn out the stump.
We’ve done three days of work and then tump has diminished a lot. Soon we’ll decide that it’s good enough and then we’ll pile dirt over it and next year there should be a beautiful flower patch there. The ash, the nutrients from the old roots and the sunny position should help with that. This was an experience that made me appreciate the might of the old tree, made me think about how people managed in the old days and showed me you can accomplish something difficult if you have patience, ingenuity and the right tools. Come to think of it, maybe my title was accurate after all.