116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Last week I was sitting on a plastic green faux Adirondack chair in front of my garage, pondering how I would manage to move a sawn tree stump across the drive. A half-century ago I could have muscled it around, but not these days. Despite my best efforts, I’m an old man, unable to do what I could once manage. Men believe they can still do all of the strength/athletic things they did as young men. It’s idiotic, but there it is.
I learned a strong lesson in my own testosterone-laden lunacy five years ago when, at age 65, I determined that I could be as good as I was in high school in a particular arcane sport … pole vaulting. In the old days my beautiful, wise wife would have talked me down out of my masculine tree, but she was deep in her Alzheimer’s, so she stood in a corner of a gymnasium while I worked with a nearby college track team. Otherwise, I’m sure she’d have said, softly, “You’re joking.” I’ll shorten this story. I’m a fool. Men, take note. Don’t be me. That’s the only advice I’ll offer here.
The tree stump came from a good-sized cedar tree near my driveway, a tree severed by a strong wind a few weeks back. A kind neighbor with a chain saw asked if he could complete the job of cutting down the tree, because he had an artistic use for it for his son’s wedding. Anyway, he asked if I’d like the stump as a place to sit, and would I like my name on it? Yes, to the first: no, to the second.
As I sat in my green chair I was joined by a creature so small I almost didn’t notice her. Jumping up to the right rear corner of my chair, just behind me, was a toad the size of a quarter. We sat together for the longest time, an old man and a tiny toad, just hanging out, sharing the same world. I chatted. You know, the usual, “Where you from? What brings you here?” She did not respond. During our shared experience I figured out how to move the stump. The toad and I were merely travelers in a world neither of us understood: in other words, she could have cared less if the stump was moved.
This morning I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a pack of yipping, howling coyotes moving past the house. Theirs is a haunting, beautiful chorus of feral voices. I have heard these voices countless times over the decades and I worry that we are endlessly attacking their world. Coyotes will generally not want anything to do with livestock, but out here farmers don’t believe it, so they kill them. They send their dogs after them, then shoot them. Coyotes kill and eat rodents and, as I understand it, will not go near livestock unless they are old, and starving, a rare set of circumstances.
I didn’t finish the story about the stump: it’s from a cedar tree and the smell is wonderful. My wife knew the tree well, as it helped shade a trail down to a picnic spot high on a cliff, a spot we cleared and created a quarter-of-a-century ago, complete with a picnic table, chairs, a fire pit, and a tall Austrian-style table where one can stand with a beverage. Come winter I’ll probably move the stump into the garage. Admittedly, it’s only a tree stump, relatively meaningless as these things go, but not to me.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.