A Stump Story


stump wiki

Guest Rant by Geoff Lewis

I was stumped. I had been hacking and levering at a small stump for about a paragraph of swearwords. I would have sat down to rest and ponder upon the stump stumping me but the miserable relic was too small and had numerable jutting sawed-off points. I think the tenacious dead thing would have appreciated the ignoble discomfort that sitting down on it could provide. From the stump’s view, it might feel like justice. The stump was the remains of a shrubby mugo pine. All the branches had been hastily chopped off some time in the misty past, leaving a macabre bouquet of stubby branch-ends, appearing like a dead octopus with writhing legs pointing classically skyward, the eyes now only X’s.

The tenacity of the dead is realized when you have a stump to remove, I find. Chaining it to the back of your three-quarter-ton diesel with the duallies and the fifth wheel and flooring it isn’t very sporting. And anyway, tackling a stump with only hand tools provides some lessons. There are lots of fun things to do with a big stump that don’t involve digging it out. Small stubby shrub stumps are just annoying trip hazards and should be removed. No motors, no winches, no cheating. Just you, an axe, loppers and a spade.

Anyway, so I’m chopping and levering. I’m stoically straining, studiously stabbing said stupid stump. The surface roots give way to chopping and swearing, but the surly shrub had pinned itself to the slope by winding a few roots deeply into the rocky rubble directly beneath it. This species is obviously adapted to survive on some pretty precarious slopes, using its roots to chase deep water and hold the slope together. The dead tree’s anchor/taproot was what had me stumped.

“Aha!” I say, and start to spin the stump. After ten rotations, I am impressed. “Remarkably pliant root wood”, I mutter between strings of expletives, one pinched finger throbbing, back aching. Finally, the dead thing gives up. Denied its sacred burial site. You’d think if you lived your whole life in one spot without moving you’d be entitled to die and decompose there. You might even fight for the right. Sorry, no. Thou stump which I drag away like the head of a conquered samurai, holding you by your topknot, you’re off to the big municipal chipper in the sky. Thou shalt be born again.

Photo credit.


  1. I suggest the cowards way out with a stump. Just cover it with enough soil and rocks to create a little rock garden. Ten years later, if you must, you can dig up the rotted corpse. I just enjoy the new garden…

  2. Here in the West we drill them with one inch holes. Fill them with sugar and let the carpenter ants eat away. Takes about one year.

  3. I found out recently that it is a mistake to leave a stump in the ground. The 2005 federal flood killed a tree in my yard and I foolishly only cut it down, covering up and forgetting about the stump. A couple of weeks ago, digging in that area, I came upon it. We have Formosan termites – these are not your friendly native termites. I found three live queens, the largest between three and four inches long. I think this colony may have been the source of the spring swarm blacking out the street light several weeks back, though it may have been the nest I saw in an oak on the neutral ground. Probably not, as the neighbors said their street light was also invisible. Leave no food for these termites, not even wood mulch. I have warned my neighbors, as the roots may have extended under their house. I will spare you the video of one of the smaller (two inch) queens.

  4. Years ago I read that the vikings used a piece of root to attach the rudder to their ships. Probably the most strong and flexible material they had.


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