Essays Written for The Plantation News

I wrote essays for The Plantation News, our family newspaper, between 1983 and 2003. Some essays recorded actual events, while others were humor, satire or fiction. The Plantation News transitioned from paper to blog and continues online here.

Billy versus The Giant Shrub

About fifteen years ago, Mom and Dad planted a large piece of evergreen shrubbery at the front corner of the house, by the driveway. Fed by the rain running down the roof and overflowing the leaf-clogged gutters, and nourished by the torrents washing down the driveway, the bush thrived, and grew into an immense, dense, thick, multi-trunked beast. Pruning had only made it grow thicker. Trimming had only made it grow denser. The bush was out of control, and this summer, in exasperation, Mom declared that THE BUSH MUST GO.

Because I was building the porch, and had also injured my knee, this Herculean arborist’s task devolved upon Billy. Billy scheduled himself two weekends to complete his appointed labor. I promised to help and advise. The available hatchets, saws, and axe-headed mauls from the workshop were arranged on the sidewalk. Billy picked up the Boy Scout bushhogging bowsaw, and waded into battle. He disappeared as the shrub swallowed him whole, till only his feet could be seen sticking out from underneath.

The bowsaw bit in. Sawdust and fragrant evergreen vapors filled the air. Knuckles got busted, punctuated with curses, in the tight confines of combat. As each trunk was severed, two more loomed into view. But slowly, through perseverance, Billy gained the upper hand. Layers of shrubbery folded away like the peeling of an artichoke. The pile of cut limbs increased, in proportion to the decreasing size of the bush. At last, Billy stood up amongst the rubble of shrubbery, to survey his vanquished foe. Tossing aside his bowsaw and his caution, Billy began hauling the brush off into the woods.

It was only then that the protectors of the shrub made their appearance. It seems the bush harbored an enormous hornets’ nest, and the yellow-bodied wasps, stunned by the sudden destruction of their abode, made their displeasure known. Buzzing menacingly, they circled the scene of destruction, and vented their fury on every moving target, and chased Billy into the house.

After a few days, the rain and sun convinced the wasps their home was inhabitable no more. When they finally flew off, the remaining branches of the bush were deposited in the woods. Billy was about to cross this labor off the House Duties list, when Chief Inspector Mom declared that the remaining stump would have to come out, too. Billy sighed.

The remaining stump of the shrub was actually eight stumps, radiating at ground level from a central core root. Billy began this siege by digging a circumferential trench, six inches deep, around the plutonic plug. He sliced through the surface roots, great cords thicker than an arm, which had anchored the bush to its moorings. Laying aside his trenching tool, Billy grasped two of the stout limbs, grabbing the woody bull by its horns. He straightened his back, flexed his knees, and gave a mighty heave, but the stump did not move even one inch. Billy took the old Boy Scout hatchet, and chopped all around the stump at every angle. The stump would not budge. Billy took the ten pound maul, and pounded on the stump with terrible force. The stump merely bounced, and settled more deeply into the ground.

Completion of this task would obviously require more leverage. Billy and I discussed the use of dynamite so near the house. No man in this position wants to admit defeat, by sawing off the stump below ground level, and covering it up. We promised Mom that, whatever it takes, that stump was coming out the next weekend.

During the week, we made preparations. I took a sixteen foot 4×4 timber that I had planned to use to hold up the porch, and tied one end with multiple cords to the stump. I calculated that with a proper fulcrum, Billy could use his 187 pounds to exert a force of nearly 3000 pounds against the stump. As a backup, I bought 20 feet of braided nylon boat-towing rope, with an estimated breaking strength of 5300 pounds.

The next weekend, Billy began by trying the leverage method with the sixteen foot 4×4 piece of lumber. He braced the timber and pulled down. The stump did not come up. He tried to get a better fulcrum against the corner of the house. He pushed with all his might, but had to stop as he heard the 4×4 timber splintering and cracking inside. The stump remained unmoved.

I volunteered my car. We tied the 5300 pound breaking strength braided nylon boat-towing rope in a noose around the stump. We tied the other end to the undercarriage of my 265 hp Ford Probe GT. I fired up the engine, and drove forward, pulling the rope taut. You could have plucked a high c-sharp on the rope as I continued ahead. The car stopped moving. I added gas. The rope got tighter. Still, the stump stubbornly held fast. Fearing for the life of my clutch, I let off and coasted back.

I decided it was either the rope or the stump, and directed Billy to stand way back, behind the oak tree. I backed up to get a moving start, and then shot ahead. The rope yanked taut, and I was thrown forward against the seatbelts as the car was stopped still for an instant. The rope sang a note of increasingly higher pitch, quickly going trans-sonic. My wheels briefly squealed against the driveway grit. Then, POW! The 5300 pound breaking strength braided nylon boat-towing rope snapped, and I had to slam on the brakes to keep from speeding into the ditch across the side yard. The broken rope was coiled underneath my car. The stump was totally unharmed.

Billy and I held a conference around the stump as we examined the frazzled ends of the torn, broken rope. We discussed alternate strategies, and the possibility that the tap root had grown six feet down, and under the house. Simply to pass the time, I continued to dig the hole around the stump deeper. An hour later, I had excavated almost 18 inches down, in a circle around the stump, cursing all the while at the hundreds of tiny, thin roots I had to cut through as I dug down. Tired, I leaned on the shovel, and rested my foot against the stump. And it moved. It moved! I yelled for Billy to come look, and he kicked at the stump, and it bent over! And it popped! He ordered me out of the hole, stepped down himself, grabbed the stump deep down by the root, and pulled, and out it came! Billy held the stump over his head in victory, and dirt clods fell all around him. With one mighty heave, he threw his uprooted nemesis into the woods.

Many years ago, in Boy Scouts, we had learned a trick: how to pick up a Scout Master with one finger. Of course, no single Scout could lift Mr. Waitman, let alone with only one finger. This was a team-building exercise. Six Scouts lined up on each side of the supine adult leader, and each extended one finger, and placed it underneath him. With our twelve fingers lifting only about twenty pounds each, the 210 pound Mr. Waitman was lifted with ease, to the applause of our disbelieving parents.

Billy and I agreed that it was much the same thing with the stump. The hundreds of small roots, pencil thin and thinner, are one-at-a-time quite weak. However, acting in concert, hundreds of them were able to hold that stump in the ground against all of the assaults we were able to exert against it. Only when each tendril was disabled one-by-one was it possible to free the stump from its secure landholding.

And thus it was that Billy gained victory over the wasp-infested shrub, and its stubborn stump, and completed the heroic task set before him by Mom.

|| Index of The Plantation News Essays ||
April 26, 2019
06:16:20 AM