Sunday, May 8, 2011


So in my last post, I noted that there’s always some flaw you overlook when you’re shopping for a house.
Here, in my beautiful stone cottage by the falls, it’s stumps.
Yes. Stumps.
Every place I want to plant something, there’s a stump in the way. There’s the pine tree that got blasted by lightning at the rear of the yard. There’s the remains of the taxus hedge that lined the walkway. There’s the arborvitae and bayberry stumps along the driveway. There’s a stump in the middle of the circular bed where the summer bulbs are to go.
And there’s the massive stump under the rose garden.
Well, it isn’t a rose garden, yet. And may never be.
The bed is sandwiched between the driveway, the patio, and the house. Though the dirt was rich and black, it was a nearly vacant canvas, ready for my gardener’s touch. I blessed the previous owners, who must have brought in a load of topsoil to create this lovely raised bed.
I imagined myself on some future summer morning, sitting on the patio, enjoying the fragrance and color from my adjacent rose garden, miraculously free of blackspot and Japanese beetles.
I’m a writer. I have a very good imagination.
So one morning I spread compost over the top of the bed and dug in.
Thunk! My shovel struck wood about six inches below the dirt. I moved six inches to the right. Thunk! A foot to the left. Thunk! I dug down far enough to see reddish wood.
I consulted my neighbor, who’d lived next door to the house for decades.
“There was a tree there,” she said. “It was a beautiful tree, with lovely pink flowers. A cherry tree, I believe. Don’t know why they cut it down.”
 I went to call the tree man.
He looked the situation over. “Do you have to take it out?” he said, with the wisdom of experience. “Can’t you just plant over it?”
I imagined years of thunking into wood. 
“No,” I said. “I want it out.”
He promised to return the next week to chip it out, but asked that we expose the entire stump in the meantime. 
Expose the stump? Sure thing. That’s the easy part, right?
After a long day of digging up beds and planting perennials, I returned to the rose bed and began to dig. Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!  In a wider and wider circle.
I piled dirt on the edges of my growing hole, and then had to shovel the same dirt again when I realized the stump extended further than I’d thought. In fact, the entire bed was a stump with a thin layer of topsoil on top. 
After a while, my husband joined me and we dug in sweaty, strenuous silence, punctuated by the occasional groan and extravagant curses directed at the previous owners who’d left us this little surprise under the flower bed.
It had been a behemoth tree. A tree folks would drive miles just to see. A tree whose roots must extend clear through the world, to annoy Chinese people on the other side.
Better if it were a coffin, or a corpse. Then we could call the police, and THEY’D dig it up.
After a bit, I ventured, “I don’t think I can do any more.”
My husband kept digging.
“Don’t you think this is good enough?”
My husband kept digging.
“The next house we buy, I’m gonna walk around the yard with a long stick, and probe into the dirt, and see if there are any stumps,” I said.
He gave me a look.
Oh. Right. Our next house will be a stump-free condo.

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