"Stumped: to be stuck on a problem. An old English expression, referring to when a farmer's plow got hung up on a buried tree stump, so he couldn't move forward or backwards. And that is where I find myself. The dilemma of being the proud granddaughter of a beloved, hard-working lumberman--and discovering myself to be a dedicated tree-hugger.
I grew up in a forest of stumps. I thought these stumps were my own private playground, child-size castles and forts for my brother and I. It never once occurred to me that our castles were the skeletons of a lost race of titans. Some of us are deep sleepers, slow to wake.
Now, at 58, my eyes are wide open, and all I see around me are ghosts. Circles of redwoods outlining the space the size of my kitchen, where a mother tree once towered. These circles are called fairy-rings and they are all over Northern California. Walk around any redwood forest and look carefully. You'll be astonished at what you don't see.
In the late 1800's into the mid 1900's, logging was a tough and honorable profession. Times were lean, jobs were scarce ,and cutting down trees for lumber was a path to putting dinner on the table. I don't know if Grandpa worried about leveling the forests around him. I do know he worried about keeping his family fed and clothed.
It's a fact that my family profited from my Grandpa's sweat and hard work. It is a fact that we also profited from the destruction of some of the oldest, largest, most beautiful living things on this planet.
My husband and I now own my grandparents' home, built from the heartwood of ancient redwoods. "Heartwood," Grandpa told us proudly, is the hardest, most valuable section of lumber from the heart of the biggest, oldest trees. Such shocking extravagance for a simple dwelling place. Our home was built nearly a century ago to showcase what could be done with redwood lumber, when most people just used it for chicken coops and dairy barns.
This house sheltered my grandparents for the last third of their lives. It embraced our entire family as I grew. The walls still glow a warm red-gold, sound and sturdy after 90 years. I love this home passionately. I am pained by its history.
A virgin redwood log, sawn in half lengthwise lies in our patio. By the 1940s, when Grandpa owned the mill, most of the virgin timber was gone. Loggers had to settle for spindly, second growth trees. But when this log was hauled in, Grandpa thought it noteworthy. He kept a section for a picnic buffet table, and as a place to display his hundreds of flower pots.
Ten couples could slow-dance on this picnic-table. My husband thinks we should preserve it with concrete crack-fillers and wood-preservative. My uncle thinks we should donate it to the sawmill museum across the road. I ponder all these ideas. I'm stumped by the right thing to do. Currently, it lies on the ground, where Grandpa placed it with his forklift nearly 50 years ago, slowly being reclaimed by moss and wildflowers.
In my mind, this is preferable to being displayed in a museum, or shined up with shellac for posterity. Both of these feel like glorifying a crime. Lying here on the earth, slowly decaying, while sad, is at least honest. Recently, a crack has developed right through the heart of this old log. Looking closer, I see something that heaves me off the stump of indecision.
A tiny redwood has sprung from the cracked heart of this ancient log. Redwoods are notoriously hard to start from seed. Conditions must be just right. I don't know much, but I know this: when God plants a tree, he doesn't wish concrete, chemicals nor varnish poured on it.
For now, the log will stay put, unvarnished, uncelebrated, unknown by most. It has a new job, cradling a life that could last 2500 years, provided we simply leave it alone. If I planted about ten thousand more redwoods, I might pay off the family debt. But for now, I try to be a voice for the trees that are left.
I ponder the parallel of trees and humans. We both get stumped by problems we didn't ask for. We both can't change the past, and have little control over the future. Perhaps it is only when hearts are cracked wide open that they're most available to miracles.
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.