Saturday, December 18, 2010

12.2 Stumped

One of the items on our running list of long-range lifestyle improvements for several years is (or, I can now say, “was”) a tree stump. More accurately, a piece of thick tree trunk cut straight enough to serve as a low, rustic-looking drink table for our woodsy retreat beneath a tree, already furnished with two gracefully varnished Adirondack chairs and bordered by thick green ivy, purple-flowering vinca, a shade plant with fuzzy blossoms called goat’s beard, pink-flowering bi-colored lamium, and our usual supply of volunteer violets and ferns.
It had for some time been our plan to furnish the wood-chip floor between those two comfortable chairs with a stump table. How we would acquire it was another matter. But trees do come down, even big ones, and people sometimes cut thick trunks into usable, though barely movable hunks. We had seen some candidates in a wood in the Berkshires after a sudden global-warming freak storm had taken down a range of trees. But the Berkshires are a long way away, and the place where we found the table-size trunk-chunks was a good distance from the nearest road. And they looked very, very heavy.
Two possibilities: We would figure out how to maneuver some intimidatingly heavy object back to our house from not too far off. Or someone would somehow sense our need and deliver one to us. On our list of needs and desires, it ranked somewhere in the “cross your fingers and wait for the right circumstances to come along” category.
And that’s sort of how it happened.
A neighbor who remembered our wish for a table-sized stump – pretty amazing that anyone would remember such a thing about little old us – and who makes a practice of walking the neighborhood regularly with her dogs happened to come upon a large tree felled and sliced into what appeared to be usable sizes just a few blocks away. She raced over with the news.
Some days later our home-for-a-visit daughter Sonya and I took a walk through the neighborhood to get some air on a gray afternoon. I decided it was a good opportunity to check out the goods. A few blocks away, thinking aloud, I said, “Maybe when some guys come with a truck to take the pieces away I can persuade them to drop one off at our house.” What sort of inducement should I offer, I wondered. Probably more than a couple of beers.
As it happened, just as we approached small apartment complex where the tree had been felled I saw a pickup truck parked in front and a couple of guys standing around a lawn generously spotted with fat hunks of tree trunk.
I picked out the guy I thought looked like the boss and said something like, “Do all those pieces have a home?”
“Do you want one?”
How did he guess? Before I could formulate my request – “what would it take to get you to drop one off?” – he said, “It’s yours if you can take it away.”
Generous. But problematic.
I stared at the thick circular slabs of tree trunk, deciding to try to pick out the one I wanted first before moving on to the considerably harder question of how I would move it. Go get the wheel barrow? Go get the car? Could my daughter and I lift it into either of these?
The tree boss watched me dither.
“You could roll it home,” he said. Then he made the choice for me. “There,” he pointed, “take that one.
Suddenly the thing was decided for me. He helped me lift the slab up onto its diameter. I pushed it forward. It rolled, bumping over a low curbstone barrier and onto the neighborhood’s lumpy asphalt sidewalk, where it wobbled but didn’t fall, and so – even more suddenly – we were off. We shouted thanks. Then the three of us (me, daughter, stump) began rolling in what was happily the right direction because of a gentle decline in the elevation.
We rolled it into the street because all the sidewalks here have bumps. We were mildly fortunate in that no cars were coming; these are quiet streets and I thought it was even money we could make it home without encountering a moving vehicle.
But I would never have made it without Sonya. The slab’s diameter wasn’t perfectly circular, of course, so the thing rolled a little one way, then a little the other way, and it became important to make sure it didn’t encounter a parked car too solidly.
After the first block, the street leveled out, and without gravity to help keep it going I was soon winded. Sonya volunteered to take over and took it the next two blocks. Then we somehow together steered into a right-angle intersection that led directly to our driveway.
We were lucky that our trunk-rolling journey encountered no real checks – save for the moment a door flew open and an older woman with an authoritative look stood in the doorway and demanded, “Did you get permission to take that?”
A remarkable question. (Why? Is that the one you wanted?) What would she have done if the answer were no?
Our assurances that the men with the truck had given their blessing satisfied her, and we made it home at no greater cost than a certain shortness of breath.
Our new “table” now sits under the garden tree awaiting the attentions of warmer weather. I hope it feels at home.