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Guest Opinion

Independently Speaking

The Northern Star of Clinton, Minnesota

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I've been cutting firewood lately. It's that time of year and when the snow flies I prefer a huge stack of firewood more man being put on hold with the propane delivery guy.

Our house is surrounded by about twenty acres of trees, planted by four generations of my family, so I usually don't wander too far afield in search of fuel.

For a while now, I've been watching an enormous old ash tree next to my house. It towered over Anna's old yellow roses, plenty close enough to the house to do some serious damage if it fell. Over the last two years, huge limbs have crashed to the ground, so I decided to cut it down before calamity struck.

I seriously didn't want to do it. It had to have been planted by my great-grandparents, because here on the edge of the prairie it takes a while for trees to get that big. I wasn't sure whether they would approve, but I was sure they'd certainly disapprove of me letting the house they built be ruined by a falling tree. So out came the chainsaw. Because of its size and proximity to the house, the felling was a little fraught. While I didn't want the tree to fall on the house during a storm, I REALLY didn't want it to fall on the house as I cut it down, so I enlisted my father to help. We hooked together all our assorted chains, applied a directional tug, and everything went splendidly. I ended up with a pile of firewood for next year and a massive stump. And it made me a little sad.

But here's the thing. There's a small elm tree a few feet west of the stump and a black walnut tree planted by the squirrels just to the south. Leave the old tree there forever and the young trees are either stunted or else grow crooked in an effort to find the light.

That's a pretty obvious metaphor. If the old hang around too long, dominating the yard, the young are stunted and soon wither and fail. It's just the way the world is — in the beginning the young need protection, but in time they need their spot in the sun and independence to flourish.

There's more. As I gradually cut down some of these old trees that have reached the end of their useful life, the driveway has sprouted more stumps than are esthetically pleasing. I suppose I could spend an hour or so digging them out and then repairing the hole with the backhoe. Personally, I'd be happy to just leave them and let them rot away in fifteen or twenty years. I'm willing to engage in selective vision for a decade or two if it saves me some work.

But there's another possibility.

My wife asked me to transform some of the stumps into mushrooms. It's a fairly easy process; you just take a chainsaw and cut away all the parts that don't look like a mushroom. It does take about four times longer to make a mushroom as it took to make the stump, but my wife doesn't make very many whimsical requests and I like to indulge them when they come.

So take that as a suggestion, all you raggedy old trees with falling limbs and a hint of rot in your trunk. Make room for some saplings to grow in the sun. That doesn't mean everything needs to come to an end. Take the opportunity to spend some time in the shade, recreate yourself in a whimsical, artistic mold that makes people smile as they wander by. Prune away everything that doesn't belong and turn yourself into art.

Maybe even a mushroom.

Copyright 2015 Brent Olson

Copyright 2015 The Northern Star, Clinton, Minnesota. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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