The Stump

I couldn’t get it out.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

I was in my 20s when I bought my first house, a dilapidated Victorian in the little town of Winters, California. I was delighted to get out of my 8 x 21 trailer, even though my new house had knob and tube wiring and didn’t really have a bathroom or foundation. All in good time. The greatest thing I did gain was a monster area for a garden, with the sweetest soil this side of heaven. There were just two problems: a medium-sized stump and a monster stump.

I managed to hack and dig out the medium-sized stump with a couple of days of backbreaking work. Then I started in on the enormous, hard, dry, walnut stump. How big was it? Think drive-through Sequoia. (Well, it seemed like it.) After a couple of days, I had dug and cut several of the side roots, but when I put a chain on my ’52 Ford pickup and gave the stump a tug, it didn’t move. It clearly had a monster tap root. I realized I’d probably pull the rear bumper off before the stump would even shiver.

Back to work with the axe, pick, and shovel. As I was taking a sweat-stained rest and chugging iced tea, one of the older gentlemen who lived on the street slowly strolled over. After we exchanged a few pleasantries, he blessed me with the secret for stump removal: almond hulls.

The older gentleman blessed me with his secret for stump removal: almond hulls.

These were easy to get in Winters. As directed, I rounded up several sacks of bone-dry almond hulls and packed them around the stump. A good dose of Boy Scout juice (kerosene) and some pine kindling got those hulls burning. They burn hot! Think surface of the sun or afterburner on a jet. (Again, this may just be my impression.) Those red-hot hulls burned that old stump like nobody’s business. The next morning I was able to just rock that stump over and drag it out.

I cleared up the debris and leveled out the dirt. Then I called a local recommended tractor man to till the soil for my huge garden. He showed up with an immaculate little tractor and was a marvel to watch. He took his tractor to within an inch of the fences—and left everything perfectly tilled and flat. When I asked how much I owed him, he replied, “No charge.” I asked how could that be? He said he was an airline pilot and just liked to drive a tractor and help people out on his days on earth.

It was a fabulous year for the garden. The only problem was, with my late start, the watermelons didn’t have enough time to fully ripen.

On top of all that, I learned two life lessons:

1) Listen to your elders.

2) Help others when you can—no charge.

This article was published originally in 2018, in GreenPrints Issue #115.


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