It doesn’t seem like 2010 ought to have been three years ago but it was. That was when I took down the Oak in the front yard. I used the stump as a pepper garden the first two growing seasons after that but this year the stump was falling apart. There’s an old saying the stump of a tree will pester you for as long as the tree itself stood but I know this isn’t true. Most people try to burn stumps away but all they’re doing is cauterizing it the wood making it less easy for insects and bacteria to break it down. Two years as a planter did the trick and now the stump is surrendering large chunks of the main roots.
It seems wrong. It seems like it should be tougher to pry the old wood out of the ground. There ought to be a price paid in sweat to remove the bones of an ancient Oak but there isn’t. With nearly no effort and no use of an axe I quickly fill up half a wheelbarrow with moldy wood, some of it with shelf fungus still attached, and that’s the last testament of a tree. I had some great fires out of the wood and got some great exercise splitting it all up.
The wood split easily enough but there was just so much of it. The tree was hundreds of years old and even though it was dying slow there was a lot of life left in it. I stacked the wood up near the house and on cold days it was nice to have. But on very cold days a fireplace doesn’t heat an entire house so the heat pump sucked smoke out of the chimney and that was a disaster. I do realize that for thousands of years people lived without central air and heating and I bet if we had to we could too.
Last night I sent a text to Peg asking her what time she wanted me to come over and help clear a rat’s nest out from behind her dog pen and received no reply. I send her another message this morning and an email, too, but still nothing. Finally, I called her and I think she kind of forgot that she wanted me to come over and she, like me, is in a yardwork dither because of all the rain. Peg gas spent more time, effort and energy trying to keep her dogs from destroying her house when if she put that energy to use training the dogs there wouldn’t be a problem. But I just work there.
It’s the Alcatraz for mutts, that dog pen, and for that matter, her whole backyard is like this. She’s got fencing and wire and all sorts of anti-dog devices put up everywhere. Her two dogs are good people but she doesn’t spend enough time with them to make a difference. We have to take down four pieces of time and three pieces of metal grating. All of these are attached by some means or method and no two are the same.
Peg is beginning to worry me. Her mind isn’t nearly as sharp as it once was and this sort of thing is happening more often these days. There was a time, not long ago either, this woman would have all the right tools, have a plan, know what came out first, knew how to put things back, and man, there wasn’t a second of wasted time or effort or a drop of sweat misplaced. Now she forgets the rights tools, forgets how she put things together to begin with and seems lost. Of course, she isn’t taking any direction or advice from me so I let her run her trip. We pull all that stuff out and… there is no rat’s nest there. There are a couple of pieces of debris that might have or might not have been dragged there by a rat but no nest. She’s been telling me for days this thing would be massive and dog only knows what we would find there. The absence of the nest seems to confuse her and it irritates her, too. We put all the stuff back together again and I leave.
I remember when she and I discussed the idea of the two of us taking the Oak down. We had taken a giant down before, because it had died, and that act of teamwork helped define who we were as friends. That job was too much for us but we got away with it because we’re good and because we’re always so well prepared but she didn’t want to tempt it again. Now, as I was driving back from her house, and it is only a few miles, I realize this might be the beginning of more than a question of physical ability but more of a human mind beginning its decline.
There have been older friend of mine who began that dark journey but Peg is close to my age. Surely not, but like the first close friend to need glasses or a hearing aid or a walker, and finally you know someone close whose mind begins to clutter and drift. Not Peg. There would not be a greater injustice in my life than to lose so great a mind. She’s a PhD and she always works so hard at keeping herself sharp. Not Peg. Pick someone else. You can’t have her.
But no one picked the Oak in the front to die either. Limbs fell, others died off, pieces rotted away until finally I had to take it down before it became a hazard every time I walked out of the front door. I still look up when I leave every day, still miss that canopy hanging over me, and I realize that I am beginning to miss someone who is still alive and still my friend.
As I walk by where the tree once stood and a stump once grew peppers I realize in a few years all trace of that tree will be forever gone.