Several years ago, high winds snapped a large spruce tree about half way up its trunk, sending the upper part of the tree crashing down on our roof. Damage was minimal, the roof was repaired, and the tree was cut up and hauled away for firewood.
But the stump, about eight feet tall, remained. Some time later, Hans cut the top off the jagged, lifeless pillar about five feet from the ground and then used his router on the flattened surface to create a bird feeder. We enjoyed watching many kinds of birds from our bedroom and living room windows.
Later, I placed a flower pot on top and used the stump as a planter. I liked seeing petunias cascading over the edge of the pot and down the rough bark.
Eventually, the stump became infested with carpenter ants and, since the twelve-inch diameter stump was only a few feet from our house, the ants sometimes visited the neighbors – us. So, Hans decided the stump had to go.
I disagreed. I really liked the stump and the fact that since it was right outside our bedroom window, I could lay right in bed and enjoy my petunias or the occasional woodpecker looking to snack on an ant. We went back and forth on it for a time; me wanting to keep the stump and him wanting to remove it.
I really liked that stump. Maybe I wanted to keep it because when Hans was about eight or so years old and the stump was still a fifty-foot tree, I shot a squirrel out of the top of it with one shot from Hans’ .22 rifle. He and his sister were not just impressed, they were astonished. A mommy who can shoot?! It was the shot heard ‘round the house for many years to come. I scored big points that day in the eyes of my little boy.
But, alas, finding no support from any quarter, I gave in. The stump was an eyesore and a carpenter ant factory. I would miss it, but the stump would have to go.
So, last summer – Hans’ last summer – he cut it flush with the ground with his chainsaw. Then he dug, and he dug, and he pulled, and he pushed. He sawed and chopped and sweated and regretted. It was hot, dusty, frustrating work. It took him many weeks working at it on his days off. I just couldn’t understand why, after working so hard all week, he would punish himself with this stump. But he was determined. The stump was the enemy – it must be vanquished, conquered, annihilated. And all the ants, too. He would not give up. Not ever.
He informed me that the wild rose bush which had grown near the stump would have to go, too. The roots of the stump passed right through where the rose bush grew. Collateral damage. I knew it would be useless to argue. He dug up the lush and beautiful rose bush and we stuck it in a barrel of water.
Finally, all the roots of the stump were out and he was now faced with a crater about five feet across and two feet deep. Neither the rose bush nor myself were particularly pleased with the new look. But he filled in the crater, carefully smoothed it over, planted grass seed, and covered the area with straw. He tried to talk me into ditching the now very sorry looking rosebush and replacing it with a nice store-bought rose bush.
No, I liked that one.
So, he replanted it for me. But it was not looking well and we were all certain it would die before the end of summer. No way could it survive the winter after what it had been through. But the rose bush held on, just a bunch of thorny sticks with a few yellow leaves. The grass seed sprouted into a neat and tidy patch of lawn; the rose bush limped along through the rest of summer, fall, and then winter.
Then January. And a car crash. And our Hans was gone.
Now, as I lay in bed and look out our bedroom window, I look through the space where the stump used to be, where I used to look at the petunia and the wood pecker. I see all the way across the yard, through the trees to where Hans and his grandfather are buried.
I like being able to look out and see the grave site and it occurs to me that if the stump was still there, it would block my view of the diamond willow cross we planted there five months ago. Looking from the pillow where I rest my head during the darkless Alaska summer night, to the spot where Hans’ body now rests, the stump would have been directly in my line of sight.
Why was he so driven to remove that stump? At the time, I thought he was a tad obsessed with it.
But now I see.
And this spring, the rose bush bloomed.