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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

The following recollection isn’t a parable, because parables involve human characters. I looked it up. Nor is it quite a metaphor. Metaphors are about symbolism, not literal truth.

Allegory? Analogy? A label eludes me. You decide.

———

In 1979, having lived in Ft. Lauderdale for most of a decade, my family and I moved back to Metro Atlanta.

We settled in Lawrenceville, a bedroom community in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, near my parents and siblings. My job was in the eastern suburb of Conyers, and I began the routine of weekday commutes cross-country from suburb to suburb.

Back then, Lawrenceville and Gwinnett were growing uncomfortably fast. The county government had been taken over by developers, literally, and one of Gwinnett’s major assets, the beautiful greenery, was disappearing lickety-split.

Subdivisions and strip malls sprouted everywhere. The communities and neighborhoods became badly overcrowded. Government resources were strained. The traffic was terrible. Nobody liked it except the landowners, developers, builders, and tradesmen who were cheerfully cashing in. Because America.

My commute from Lawrenceville to Conyers was a drive of about 25 miles and 40 minutes. Usually, traffic at the Lawrenceville end was busy and unpleasant, but the rest of the drive was easy and peaceful along rural roads.

I thought of those commutes as my personal time to relax and reflect. I became an attentive observer of life along the route of the commute, about which I elaborated in this post in 2009 and this one in 2015.

I mention this because of something else that held my attention during those years: a handsome forest of hardwoods along Georgia Highway 20, the main route between home and Lawrenceville. Over time, as the human presence expanded, I watched the forest change.

The hardwoods were at their most picturesque near the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive. Swanson Drive led east to the county jail, the animal shelter, and an elementary school. There, of course, the trees long since had been razed.

But at the aforementioned intersection, the trees were striking — a mature stand in its prime, dominated by beautiful White Oaks with broad, dense crowns.

At the southeast corner of the intersection, under the oaks, was a small building, originally a residence, now a business.

The sign in front read

WHITE OAKS DAY CARE CENTER

For several years, I passed the place twice a day on my commute, and it was one of the highlights of the drive. The setting was attractive and restful. The little building under the trees was a pleasant, welcome sight.

Apparently, the day care center was doing well, and the time came to expand. The house was demolished, and most of the surrounding oaks were cut down. Only half a dozen remained.

A new building was constructed on the property, suitably larger and more elaborate.

The new sign in front read

OAK GROVE DAY CARE CENTER

In 1996, I moved to Walton County, and my days of commuting across Gwinnett County ended. After that, I passed the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive only on weekends, on my way to see my parents in the old neighborhood.

Time passed. Outwardly, little changed at the intersection. Then, in 2001 or 2002, the parking lot was repaved and expanded. Of the remaining oaks, all were cut down except two, one on each side of the building.

I wondered if the business would rename itself TWIN OAKS DAY CARE CENTER, but I was disappointed.

During the next several years, my life and routine changed significantly. Mom and Dad passed away, and I retired. I moved to Jefferson to be closer to my son Dustin and his family. Trips to Lawrenceville became a rarity. I lost track of the property at the intersection and its two surviving oak trees.

Over the decades from 1979 to the present, GA 20 north of Lawrenceville progressed from two lanes, to three lanes, to four, to six. Swanson Drive was extended west across GA 20, where a massive new industrial park was built. All typical of Gwinnett’s pell-mell growth over the years.

If you sense that I disapprove, you are correct. The county is overcrowded and choked with traffic to an appalling degree. Home prices and taxes are prohibitive. In short, Gwinnett long ago squandered its redeeming qualities. I avoid going there when possible.

In the end, the county’s steady growth and constant road improvements effectively canceled each other out. Morning and evening traffic have attained a state of hopeless, permanent gridlock, probably forever.

But I digress.

A couple of years ago, I passed the aforementioned intersection and was surprised to find that the day care center was gone. That was unexpected, but things change. Maybe the owners had retired or moved away.

Occupying the property instead were three small businesses: a U-Haul dealership, a rental car company, and a used car lot.

Also, I regret to report that only one of the two large White Oaks remained. There it was, the lone survivor of the original stand, providing shade for a row of used cars.

Too bad no one thought of LONE OAK AUTOMOTIVE.

Lone survivor

The intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive in Lawrenceville, showing the surviving White Oak.

The day care center, by the way, did not close. I discovered later that it merely had relocated a few blocks south on GA 20. The sign at the new location reads

OAK GROVE CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER

I certainly understand. “Child development” has much more panache than “day care.”

Still, considering the fate of the trees at the old location, the use of “oak grove” is ironic.

That, and the fact that the new location essentially is treeless.

OGCDC

Quercus alba

Quercus alba, the White Oak, native to North America from southern Canada to Florida to eastern Texas. So named because of the color of the finished wood. In favorable conditions, a White Oak can live for 450 years.

 

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A few years ago, I posted two short stories by American author Kate Chopin (1850-1904): The Story of an Hour and Regret.” The first post, in case you’re interested, included a brief bio.

Chopin’s work appeals to me for two reasons.

First, her writing strikes me as more modern than most from her era. She comes across as ahead of her time, almost contemporary.

Second, when reading Chopin, I get the sense that I understand her thought processes and motivations, as if seeing into her brain. It makes her characters and plots seem more genuine. Truer to life. Closer to reality than fiction.

I get that feeling with “The Night Came Slowly.

———

The Night Came Slowly

By Kate Chopin
Published in Moods, Philadelphia, July 1895

I am losing my interest in human beings; in the significance of their lives and their actions. Some one has said it is better to study one man than ten books. I want neither books nor men; they make me suffer. Can one of them talk to me like the night — the Summer night? Like the stars or the caressing wind?

The night came slowly, softly, as I lay out there under the maple tree. It came creeping, creeping stealthily out of the valley, thinking I did not notice. And the outlines of trees and foliage nearby blended in one black mass and the night came stealing out from them, too, and from the east and west, until the only light was in the sky, filtering through the maple leaves and a star looking down through every cranny.

The night is solemn and it means mystery.

Human shapes flitted by like intangible things. Some stole up like little mice to peep at me. I did not mind. My whole being was abandoned to the soothing and penetrating charm of the night.

The katydids began their slumber song: they are at it yet. How wise they are. They do not chatter like people. They tell me only: “sleep, sleep, sleep.” The wind rippled the maple leaves like little warm love thrills.

Why do fools cumber the Earth! It was a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell. A man came to-day with his “Bible Class.” He is detestable with his red cheeks and bold eyes and coarse manner and speech. What does he know of Christ? Shall I ask a young fool who was born yesterday and will die tomorrow to tell me things of Christ? I would rather ask the stars: they have seen him.

The Night Came Slowly

In the last paragraph, Chopin refers to “a man’s voice that broke the necromancer’s spell.” The meaning of that line eludes me. In this case, I’m not seeing into her brain very successfully.

 

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Joliet Jake

Hello. This is me:

Jake-1

This is to let you know that I have a new home, a new human, and a new name.

My new human is an old guy with a beard. He calls me Jake. Joliet Jake.

The living arrangements at the new place are pretty great. It’s just me and the new human. The house is nice, and I have plenty of dog toys at my disposal. I get treats all the time, without even asking.

Plus, the house has a fenced yard that backs up to a big woods. I see a lot of critters out there — birds, squirrels, cats — all ripe for herding. Not to mention frogs, lizards, and even deer sometimes.

And the food — wow! The new human feeds me this crunchy kibble stuff three times a day. What a sweet deal.

Yeah, I do need to put on some weight. Back when I was on my own, I missed too many meals. Seemed like I was always hungry. Not any more.

Speaking of my previous life, the new human knows nothing about that. You see, he rescued me from a dog prison, where I was locked up for, like, a week.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain how things went down…

One day, I was wandering around as usual, exploring, checking things out. I was what you call footloose and fancy free.

Then I surprised a couple of cats in somebody’s back yard.

Boy, those cats could run. Naturally, I took off after them. They’re cats, right? They’re made for chasing, right?

Anyway, I treed the cats, and while I sat there keeping an eye on them, this white truck drove up, and a man in a uniform got out. He seemed friendly, so I went over to him to get petted.

Oh, he petted me, all right. But then — oldest trick in the book — he slipped a noose around my neck. Game over, man. I ended up in the back of the truck in a cage.

Then the man in the uniform took me to that dog prison I mentioned. What a terrible place! It was a giant room full of cells, one dog per cell. I couldn’t see the whole thing, but I could hear and smell all the other dogs. It was nuts in there.

Now and then, a human would walk past my cell. Some wore uniforms, some didn’t.

The routine, I figured out, was to feed us in the morning and hose out our cells in the afternoon. Other than that, we just sat there with nothing but a water bowl.

I tell you, being in that prison was awful. It shouldn’t happen to a dog.

Jake-2

My prison mugshot. I was plenty scared.

Well sir, after a few days in the lockup, I saw my new human for the first time. He was walking slowly past the cells, looking at us dogs one at a time.

He stood in front of my cell for a long time, talking real nice to me. I had no way of knowing he’d be the one to spring me, but he was. And look at me now.

On my last morning in prison, one of the uniformed guys took me out of my cell and drove me to a vet clinic. I’m not sure why.

The humans there seemed nice enough, but they gave me something that made me sleep.

When I woke up, I was dizzy, and my private parts hurt. But, when I tried to lick myself to make it better, they stuck a plastic cone on my head so I couldn’t!

After that, it was back to the dog prison and into my cell again. That’s when the new human appeared and got me out of there for keeps.

That was about a week ago. I’m settling in now, getting familiar with the house, the yard, and the new human’s routine and habits.

Jake-3

One of my favorite things we do is the morning walks. Most days, before it gets hot, we go for a stroll somewhere around town. I like that.

So, that’s the story. Things are going fine here. It looks like I got lucky — wallowed in something and came up smelling like a rose.

And the new human finally stopped making me wear that stupid cone. Good riddance, I say.

Cheers, and I’ll see you around.

Joliet Jake Smith

Jake-4

Hello. Rocky here.

Jake is either a Blue Merle Border Collie, an Aussie, or a mix. He was picked up by Jackson County Animal Control wearing no identification. Nobody showed up to claim him, so I adopted him.

The vet says Jake is about three years old and in good health, needing only to gain a few pounds.

Jake is happy, friendly, and housebroken. He never messes with anything in the house, unless he mistakes it for a toy. For example, I kept Paco’s old dog toys in a wicker basket until Jake decided the basket was a toy, too, and I had to put it away.

Most days, I leave him at home, loose in the house, while I run errands. When I return an hour or two later, nothing is out of place. Knock on wood.

Typical of a herding dog, he’s very quiet. I’ve heard him bark only once, at something in the woods.

About every other night, he wakes me up to go outside for a potty break. I have no problem with that.

On his first vet visit after I adopted him, he encountered several kids and dogs in the lobby, and he showed zero aggression.

On his 2nd day here, he escorted a cat out of the back yard. It happened in a blur lasting about half a nanosecond.

He also treed a squirrel and routed some birds from the feeder. He spends a lot of time patrolling the back yard, alert for any movement.

Paco has been gone for two years. That’s a long time. It’s good that dog is my copilot again.

 

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● While exploring Asia in the late 1200s, Marco Polo encountered a rhinoceros and concluded it was a unicorn. “They are very ugly brutes to look at,” he wrote. “They are not at all such as we describe unicorns.”

● Writing with pen and ink was a messy and frustrating business until a ray of hope appeared in 1888. That year, a patent was issued for a pen with a rotating ball in the tip to control the release of ink. A clever concept, but the thing was still annoyingly unpredictable.

The real breakthrough came in the 1940s, when Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor, observed that printing ink dries faster than writing ink. Biro developed a formulation that worked well in a ballpoint pen, made millions, and eventually sold his patent to the Bic Corporation.

In most of Europe and Asia today, a ballpoint pen is called a ‘biro.”

● The first woman elected to Congress was Jeannette Rankin of Montana, who served two terms in the House of Representatives, 1917-1919 and 1941-1943, both during wartime. A Republican, she was a long-time leader of the women’s suffrage movement and a committed pacifist.

During the 1916 campaign, as World War I raged in Europe, she said, “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.” After the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was the only member of the House to vote against declaring war on Japan. “As a woman, I can’t go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send anyone else.”

● In the Western Hemisphere, hurricanes are classified according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Developed in 1971, the scale rates a storm based on sustained wind speed and anticipated property damage.

The scale’s creators were Herbert Saffir, a structural engineer, and Robert Simpson, a meteorologist. They patterned it after the Richter Scale, which quantifies earthquakes.

Hurricane scale

● Vodka is a tasteless spirit distilled from fermented grain or potatoes. The name comes from the Russian word “voda” (water) and/or the Polish word “woda” (water).

Both countries claim to have invented vodka. Russia says it invented the stuff in the 9th century. Poland says vodka was first distilled in Poland in the 8th century. Russia dismisses the early Polish version as a crude brandy, not real vodka. Take that, Poland.

● The largest national park in the U.S. is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Established in 1980, the park covers 20,000 square miles, which is a bit larger than Switzerland and a bit smaller than Ireland.

● Cleopatra (69 BC – 30 BC) ruled Egypt as the last member of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greeks who took power after the death of Alexander the Great in 305 BC. Cleopatra was the only Ptolemy to speak Egyptian instead of Greek. After her death, reportedly by suicide, Egypt became a Roman province.

● Nike, Inc., the footwear and apparel behemoth, began in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports. In 1971, having settled on a new “swoosh” logo design, the company sought a new name.

Among the top proposals by the founders and employees were Peregrine, Bengal, and Dimension Six. Then, employee Jeff Johnson called in from a business trip to Portland, Oregon, and suggested Nike, the name of the winged Greek goddess of victory.

CEO Phil Knight made the final decision. “I guess we’ll go with the Nike thing for a while,” he reportedly said. “I don’t like any of them, but I guess that’s the best of the bunch.”

Nike

● The 17th Century Native American woman Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, is famous for intervening to save the life of Captain John Smith as her father was about to execute him. For the most part, her story has been romanticized and exaggerated.

In real life, she was kidnapped by the English, converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, got married, had a son, toured England as an example of a “civilized savage,” and died there at age 21.

● You know how bags of potato chips are inflated and puffy, and they go whoosh when you open them? That’s because the bags are filled with nitrogen gas before sealing. Nitrogen is used because it’s a stable gas that doesn’t react chemically with the chips, so they remain fresh longer.

● At present, 24 countries around the world are named for men (Bolivia for Simon Bolivar, Colombia for Christopher Columbus, The Philippines for King Philip of Spain, etc.). Only one country, the Caribbean nation of Saint Lucia, is named for a woman.

Saint Lucia of Syracuse, aka Saint Lucy, was martyred in 304 AD by the conquering Romans for distributing her considerable riches among her Greek countrymen. This displeased her betrothed, a highly-connected Roman, and she was sentenced to be defiled in a brothel.

According to legend, the guards who came to arrest her were unable to move her, even with a team of oxen. They tried to burn her at the stake, but the fire went out. Finally, she was sent to her reward by sword.

The late comedian Jackie Gleason (1916-1987) is buried at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Miami. Etched into the marble steps leading to his grave is one of his well-known catchphrases, And away we go!

Gleason grave

 

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One thing that irritates me bigly is when I discover I have a knowledge gap about something — when I find I’m uninformed on a subject commonly known to others. It shows that I’m not as educated and erudite as I like to think. I hate that.

Recently, while on a road trip, I got schooled about something new — new to me — and I’ve been pouting ever since.

It happened earlier this month on a trip to Land Between the Lakes, a national recreation area in northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky.

(Before the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers were dammed to create Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, the place was called Land Between the Rivers. But that isn’t the thing I got schooled about.)

Among the amenities and attractions at LBL is the Woodlands Nature Station, a small zoo that houses a variety of orphaned or injured animals. In residence there are hawks, owls, deer, groundhogs, a bald eagle, a coyote, and other critters that no longer can survive in the wild.

I found it interesting that, during the day, the raptors are not caged, but instead are restrained by tethers. Each bird has a perch and is free to move in a radius of about five feet. Every day, just before closing time, the birds are transferred to their night-time shelters in the “Parade of Raptors.” A clever bit of marketing there.

Woodlands-1

So I bought a ticket and spent half an hour wandering around the place. The woodsy setting was attractive and pleasant, and the animals seemed unstressed, which was nice.

Before long, in a clearing between the wild turkey pen and the possum enclosure, I arrived at a large turtle pond. Submerged in the pond were three large alligator snapping turtles and a dozen smaller turtles of various types.

(The jaw power of an alligator snapper is impressive. An adult can bite through a broom handle.)

Woodlands-2

My timing was pretty good. Two employees were just arriving with a bucket of lunch for the turtles.

What do the turtles at Woodlands Nature Station eat? On the menu that day was dead mice.

It seems natural enough to feed dead mice to the raptors, the coyote, and other critters, but to the turtles? I would expect turtles to be fed fish, insects, worms, or maybe commercial turtle food. Mice? Intriguing.

With some difficulty, the male employee, a portly gentleman, assumed a sitting position beside the pond near a group of the smaller turtles. He reached into the bucket and withdrew a dead mouse. Holding it by the tail (Of course. How else would you pick up a dead mouse?), he dangled it in the water in front of one of the turtles.

Here ya go, Lulu,” he cooed. “I got a nice mouse for ya.”

Remaining underwater, Lulu propelled herself forward, grabbed the mouse, and quickly retreated from the group; the other turtles had taken notice.

Better feed Alice next so she don’t steal from the others,” the female employee said.

The man dangled a mouse in front of Alice. Alice snatched it and promptly swam away.

By then, the other turtles had assembled in a rough semi-circle, waiting to be fed. One by one, the man presented them with lunch. Then it was time to feed the alligator snappers.

Hey, y’all — wake up!” the man called out. He struggled to his feet and moved the mouse bucket closer to where the three snappers were snoozing. They noted his presence and came to attention.

As the man doled out mice to the snappers, some of the smaller turtles arrived, hoping to score again. The man tried to maintain order and keep the turtles apart. From a nearby bench, the female employee offered advice and occasionally admonished a turtle for getting too close to the business end of a snapper.

Up to that point, I had been quietly observing. I finally spoke up.

The turtles really like those mice,” I said. “I didn’t expect that.”

Oh, yeah, they love ’em,” the man replied.

Where in the world do you get dead mice?” I asked. “What’s the source?”

We buy ’em wholesale.”

Wholesale? Mice?”

Oh, yeah. For places like us, with animals to feed, it’s crucial. We couldn’t operate otherwise. We place the orders automatically. The merchandise comes frozen.”

Of course.”

Anyway, that’s the new thing I learned on my road trip: there is an entire world out there, previously unbeknownst to me, in which large national companies — nay, large worldwide companies — raise mice, rats, chicks, quail, and even little bunny rabbits to execute, freeze, and sell as a food source.

Why wasn’t I aware of this? Because the logistics of animal food supply never appeared on my radar screen. I’ve never had a bird, turtle, or snake as a pet, never had to consider the food issue.

When I got home a few days later, I Googled the dead mouse business and got further informed. In the trade, the product is called feeder mice.

And, as a business, it makes sense. Selling feeder mice is just a case of meeting an industry need. A matter of demand and supply. It’s all there — production, R&D, purchasing, marketing, finance, distribution.

Systems have to be in place to euthanize the little things and sort them by category — size, weight, color, and so on. The merchandise must be properly preserved, packaged, shipped, and delivered. And certified as healthy and disease-free.

What, you ask, is the cost of a dead mouse? There are variables aplenty — size, weight, nutritional content, quantity ordered.

As I write this, RodentPro.com has a special sale on extra-small “pinky” mice, sold in bags of 100. Normally 35 cents each, they are now available for the amazing low price of 24 cents each!

If pinkies are too small for your needs, RodentPro sells small adult “weanling” mice for 65 cents each (bags of 50) and large adult mice (choice of brown, white, or hairless) for 75 cents (bags of 25).

If the sale ends before you have a chance to act, don’t worry. The other big names in the business (Mice Direct, American Rodent Supply, The Big Cheese Rodent Factory, etc.) are sure to have special offers that interest you.

Woodlands-3

Woodlands-4

Like I said, it’s mortifying to discover something that is new to me, but common knowledge to others.

On the other hand, looking at the bright side, at least I’ve narrowed my knowledge gap a bit.

 

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The Questions…

1. Four of the five Great Lakes share borders with the U.S. and Canada. The fifth is located entirely within the United States. Name it.

2. What is Morton’s toe?

3. Each year in Scotland, a music festival is held on the banks of Loch Ness, the purported home of the “Loch Ness Monster.” What is the name of the festival?

4. In 1908, SOS was adopted as the universal distress signal sent in Morse code by wireless operators. What signal did it replace?

5. If you use the term peacocks to refer to a group of the birds that includes both sexes, you are in error. The male is a peacock, and the female is a peahen. (Juveniles are peachicks.) What is the proper collective term for a group that includes males and females?

The Answers…

1. Lake Michigan.

2. Morton’s toe is a condition in which the second toe is longer than the big toe. It occurs on 10-20 percent of feet. In the 1920s, Dr. Dudley J. Morton discovered its cause: a slightly short metatarsal in the big toe.

3. Rock Ness.

4. Originally, wireless operators transmitted CQD as a distress signal. CQ meant a call to all stations, and the D was for distress. The world switched to SOS because CQ and CQD are too similar and could be confused. When the Titanic was sinking in 1912, its radio officer sent out multiple calls, alternating CQD and SOS.

5. The correct term is peafowl. FYI, a group of peafowl is called a pride or an ostentation.

Great Lakes

Peafowl

 

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Duel Epilogue

I’m here to report that my eight-year battle to eliminate an unwelcome tree in a local cemetery, a tree that had no business being there and was pushing a tombstone askew, a battle I thought I had won in 2014, in fact continued for four more years.

I didn’t reckon on the stump. The stump turned out to be remarkably stubborn.

The short version of the story is this: I noticed the tree in 2006, when I first moved to Jefferson. It was growing next to the grave of a pastor who died a century ago. It had grown so large that the headstone was beginning to tilt slightly.

No one else seemed to be doing anything about it, so I took it upon myself to eliminate the tree. In June 2014, after a lengthy campaign, I declared victory. At last, the blasted thing showed no more signs of life.

The complete story is in a celebratory blog post I wrote in 2014.

At the time, I assumed the stump would disintegrate fairly quickly. The day would come, I told myself confidently, when I would be able to uproot it with a swift kick, and the pastor could rest undisturbed again.

Secure in that knowledge, I stopped at the cemetery every few months to assess things. Each time, I would administer a kick in hopes of dislodging the stump. Each time, I left disappointed.

The seasons came and went. The stump did, in fact, dry out and crack. It became gray and shrunken. Random chunks broke off. No bark remained.

Twice, I gave it a few vigorous whacks with a sledgehammer,* but still to no avail. The stump remained as solid as a fire hydrant.

Then, about a year ago, I got the first indication that victory might be near. (Nearer. Nearing.) When I administered the customary swift kick, I heard a sharp crack, and the stump moved.

I still couldn’t dislodge it, but for the first time, it was slightly loose and wobbly.

Several trips to the cemetery later, just a few weeks ago, I administered the kick that proved to be final and victorious.

One evening after supper, on a lark, I drove to the cemetery and walked out to the pastor’s grave. There was the stump, old and worn, still wobbly, but still, literally, holding its ground.

This time, my kick succeeded.

I applied it smartly, as usual. To my amazement, the stump popped out of the ground, sailed a few feet, and landed on the grass with a thump. I stood there, blinking in disbelief.

After 12 years, the deed was done. The tree and the stump — gone at last.

And, by God, I prevailed. That tree was tenacious, but not as tenacious as me.

* In hindsight, I realize that entering a cemetery with a sledgehammer was a foolish move. I could have been arrested for intent to deface grave markers.

Stump

Rocky 1, tree 0.

 

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