Get to The Root: Lessons from a Dead Tree

You’ve heard that expression “get to the root” of things, right? Maybe I think too much, but a dead tree and a stubborn stump are still teaching me lessons four years later.

I’m still working my way through the last hundred pages of I. Asimov – A Memoir this morning but I decided to resurrect a post from my old blog again today. I’m thinking I might make that a regular Sunday thing. It’s nice (for me, anyway) to go back through those older posts and find things I thought were lost. Memories come up that I don’t remember writing about. It’s like finding treasure.

The following was posted on October 29, 2018, and I entitled it Get To The Roots. Titles, my dear reader, are complicated.

There was a big old half dead pine tree in our yard when we bought this house. It was about thirty feet tall and right across the driveway from the living room. It still had some green tips on its sad branches, and its half dead branches did provide a little shade to  the house in the summer, so I decided to try to revive it. I dug a well around the base of the tree and filled it with water every day for more than a year. It struggled and grew a few more green tips, but when we took a three-week vacation, it lacked water and all the progress was gone.

Side note: I have empathy for plants and trees. I know this is strange, but I can’t sit back and watch them die. I water them and tend them, even if I don’t want them. I adopt plants when people are going to throw them out. Not watering this tree made me sad, even though I knew it was a waste of time.

It stood there dead for a few more years. The woodpeckers loved it and I enjoyed watching them from the west window. Whole families of them were constantly chattering away, poking holes in it looking for bugs. I hung some bird houses that I had in it, but no one wants to take up residence in a dead tree with no cover. It started to look like any day it might fall on the house and cause us more problems.

When we got a new travel trailer for our road trips, we found that the driveway was too narrow at that point to pull it all the way around. We’d need to widen the driveway and that old tree was in the way. It needed to go.

My husband started by cutting it down. I was impressed that he felled it so easily for an office man, proceeding to cut the old limbs off and stack them. The smaller branches were super brittle and easy to smash up and put in the trash. The thicker branches he cut into fireplace pieces along with most of the trunk. A large piece of the trunk went to the man that came to grade our driveway. He’s a woodcarver and put it in his truck for a project he had in mind.

All that was left was the stump. Naïvely, we had asked if he could knock it over with the tractor and he emphatically said he couldn’t. He was sure it wouldn’t budge. We’d have to get it out some other way before he could finish the job.

Look up “stump removal” on the internet and you’ll find all kinds of creative ways to get rid of them. There are videos galore of people doing it, from explosives and burning, to chemicals and water.

I suggested calling a specialist, but my husband is an industrious man. He insisted on doing it himself. Early on Saturday morning, he got out all the “shovels and rakes and implements of destruction” and started to dig. He cut roots and shoveled all morning long, took a break while our teenage son took a crack at it, and went back to work on it on Sunday morning.

At one point, he hooked up our VW bus to it and tried pushing and pulling to loosen it up. I took video, of course. I was not going to miss this opportunity to go viral on the internet. But, do dice. That stump was not going to budge.

“How can a big dead tree, with all its multitude of dead and breaking limbs, have such a strong and hearty root?!” I told my friend as we stood looking at it the next morning.

We all have big dead trees like that in our lives. A failed relationship, a dependence on a substance, bad habits and bad people are something everyone has at least a little of. When we lay them out on paper or in conversation with a close friend, we can see it’s not serving us, it’s actively hurting us, holding us back. We should cut them down and get rid of them.

We start by knocking it down. We ditch that relationship and move out, get another job, or leave town. We clean up the house and sell all our extra stuff to live more frugally. We go through drug rehab or get some professional help for our mental struggles. It feels great because we’re moving towards getting better, but then we hit a wall.

Suddenly, the project or recovery seems so damn complicated. There’s so much work to do! So, we stop. We got rid of it, that should be enough. And there we are with a dead stump right where the new driveway should be. It’s still a royal pain in the ass to pull the trailer around. We need to finish the job to be well. We have more work to do.

The power tools come out, the pick, the shovels, the sweat, and the aching back. We may have to resort to dynamite as a last resort. But it will be worth it.

Once the long labor is over, life will go more smoothly. The limbs of the big dead tree in your life may be easy to break off. The trunk of it may need a power tool to get down. But the root will still be there and it’s going to be a long painful process to get it out. It will be worth it though. Get to work!

That work was done nearly five years ago now. This past weekend, I felt the fruit of it once again when my stepdad was able to pull even his 30-foot trailer around that corner and down the driveway. If we hadn’t removed it, that wouldn’t have been possible.

That’s what we do when we “do the work” and get well. We can take the tree down and leave the root, maybe re-purpose it right where it is or decorate it, incorporating it into our lives, but it’s still a burden to work around. Getting rid of it, stump, root, and all, is what we need to do to move on and grow into something greater than we were.

Another side note about memory: I could have sworn I had a picture of them attempting the epic stump-pull with the VW bus, but I can’t find it. I keep fairly organized picture files and searched well but alas…no picture.

The stump is still in yard, but out of the way. You probably recognize it if you read here often. I frequently use it to showcase the book I’m reading when I post about them.

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