Life with a Stump

In honor of iScriblr’s Freedom of Expression Challenge: Memories, some memories inspired by a stump…


I wonder if stumps experience phantom pain.
Do they still feel the tug of branches that stretched toward the sky?
Do their roots still try to push nutrients up to the far reaches where tiny little leaf buds once grew?


When I worked with amputees, I experienced phantom pain from a care-taker’s point of view. The feeling of helplessness.
Pain so bad you’d hear men seasoned in war whimpering and crying out for mom or god or the devil, even. Anyone to take it away.
It was hard to get the pain meds right. Nerve pain is tricky. And time was so often a cursed enemy. You can hold that button down all you want, but its relief is on a timer.
The time in between, I’d tap on the stump. It’s a distraction. A trick of the mind.
Tap, tap, tap, tap,
tap, tap, tap, tap,
tap, tap, tap, tap,
tap, tap, tap, tap,
tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.
There. You see? Your mind gets so focused on the tapping, it forgets about the pain for a bit.

Phantom pain is a memory. And memories can hurt. And you get angry.

Why did they have to cut this tree down?
I want to think maybe it came down naturally. Maybe the water from the lake rotted it out.
But that’s not what happened. The top of the stump is too smooth. It was cut down.
This stump was once a beautiful tree. I can imagine seeing it standing out here in this vast open space. Seeing the mountains through its limbs. How different this view would be.
Did they change this view for me? To make the place more open? To give me a better view?
So many things destroyed in the name of humanity.
I get mad about what was. I grieve for what’s been lost.


I love the way trees keep track of their age.
Like parents marking up a door frame.
We all learn that in school, and it stays with us. We see a tree stump and we start counting rings.
I think we enjoy the feeling of something knowable in an outdoor world generally shrouded in mystery.
And we get age. We obsess over age.
The lines are so weathered now, they’re impossible to fully count. But I think I can make out over fifty. And that seems way too young for a tree to die.
“Cut down in his prime” comes to mind. Because that’s how we think. In terms of what we’ve lost.
Instead of what we have left.
Instead of what we had.


The doctors would always talk about their ‘residual limb’.
“Call it a stump, doc.” The guys would say.
‘Stump’, ‘Stumpie’, ‘The Stump-Meister’
It was never what they had lost, but what they still had.
You were lucky to have a stump. You could put a prosthetic on a stump.
Some of the others weren’t so lucky. It’s harder to get fitted if they have to take your leg all the way up to the hip joint.

I have a thought about putting a prosthetic on this stump. Digging out a plastic Christmas tree from someone’s attic and lodging its bracing pole right in the center.
The thought makes me snicker. I’m not sure if I’m being irreverent or celebrating its life. Like when you place a headstone with a few words and dates. It’s a stand-in for the life that was. A reminder that there once was life. It may be a poor representation of the whole, but your intentions are right.
But this stump is already its own headstone.
And I get lost for a while trying to figure out if you could, in fact, give a tree a prosthetic.


Sometimes they’d lose both legs. Your first inclination is toward pity.
Then you read the sign they all wanted on their doors:

Attention to all who enter here. If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, go elsewhere. The wounds I received I got doing a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love. I am incredibly tough and will make a full recovery. What is full? That is the utmost physically my body has the ability to recover. Then I will push that about 20% further through sheer mental tenacity. This room you are about to enter is a room of fun, optimism, and intense rapid re-growth. If you are not prepared for that, go elsewhere.
The Management

They couldn’t wait to get their new legs.
‘Shorties’ first. For practice.
Learn to balance and use your muscles again to swing your legs and figure out the pressure needed to correctly place feet you can’t feel.
They’d walk around, 3 feet tall. Camaraderie in the form of jokes and taunts from the other guys. But really, all smiles. Because it was victory. They were still alive. They just got some part of a leg or two that could be replaced. In a few months they’d get their full-size legs and feel back to normal and be begging to go back.
Show the bastards that legs weren’t hearts.
“They can blow me up again and the joke’s on them.”

When people chop a tree down, they almost always leave the stump.
It’s easy to cut away all the limbs. It’s easy to take an ax or a chainsaw to the trunk. But only so far. It’s hard to cut low to the ground. You might cut your leg off if you try to go too low.
If you want to clear the stump out, you have to bring in a grinder. And you have to spend time. Making sure you get all the roots so there’s no more chance at life. It’s an effort most aren’t willing to make.
When we look at a tree, we see limbs and leaves and we think life.
But the life really happens at the roots, doesn’t it?
The heart of a tree.
The part that a million whacks so often fail to clear.

After the first major surgery, when they even out all the shattered bones and clean it out and hope to have enough good hanging skin to wrap tight around the end,
you have to shape the stump.
They would wear a compression sleeve, like a little beige beanie. Pull tight over the end.
They drew faces on them with markers. Named them. Talked to you with their stumps like demented ventriloquists.
Swelling went down, scar tissue settled, and the shape of their stump established itself. This is important for a good prosthetic fit.
Everybody’s stump is different. Everybody’s stump forms from different events and different wounds and with its own unique set of scars.


There is a such a thing as a living stump. A stump that can stay alive for years and even grow again. It’s often a practice to cut trees down to the ground, harvest the new growth, and cut it down again.
Because wounded trees have the capacity to grow again.
But the catch is community. Stumps can only grow if their roots can tap into the roots of living trees nearby.
They need the support. They need to be nursed until they can get back on their feet.
The stump produced by this method is called a stool.
That makes me smile.
I sit down on this stump.
It’s beautiful. And tragic. Just like my guys.
I love the way its roots overlap and interlace as they flow along the ground. Maybe they’re grafting into themselves. Sharing. Trying.
I anthropomorphize. So I think it’s cute the way it cuddles that little tumbleweed.
I’m amazed at the reach of its roots. And I like the places where you can see them dig into the ground.
There aren’t any trees close by. So is it possible this stump is a stool? I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve read about trees with roots that reach for miles.
It reminds me of The Dying Gaul. A memorial. But maybe also hope for life again.
A reminder that there is life still. Period.
I sit down on this stump and admire the view it chose for itself so many years ago. The view it enjoyed.
I celebrate what it had.
I celebrate what it has left.
I think – I’ll be your prosthetic for a while.


Nature often works as a mirror for me.
I come across these various forms of life that in so many ways reflect my own.
When I see flashes of my own struggles or perspectives or memories in the way a tree stands alone in a field, or in the way a chickadee frets over his mate, or in the way the exposed rock of Earth is adorned by the sun.
On this day, I saw myself so plainly in a stump.
To me, this is one of the reasons we all have those moments when we feel connected to Nature.
One of the many ways an experience in the outdoors can leave us feeling more alive and somehow wiser.
Nature exhibits life in its purest, most abstract form.
Nature is the essence of life.
And when we take the time to commune with her, she encourages us to reflect on those moments when we understood what it means to be alive.



Thank you, iScriblr for the prompt!!

© 2019 Lindsay Sears @ All Rights Reserved

34 thoughts on “Life with a Stump

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  1. Wowzer. One of the things that I love about your writing- and you- is your honesty- how you write from the heart. Its a beautiful, moving thing. What a tribute to strength and character- in humans and nature.

  2. Lindsay, you have an extraordinary mind and I love reading what comes out of it. You’re so right, as I was reading through your post I was constantly thinking of the word tragic when it comes to this – or what’s left of this – glorious tree and it’s sprawling roots still clinging onto the land. As you know, one of my favourite places to walk is woodland, so to me chopping down a healthy tree like this in it’s prime is pure sacrilege. I love your analogy with prosthetics and your fascinating recollections of working with amputees. And I also love the idea that the stump is its own headstone. I remember watching a programme on trees last year in which I learned that they can actually communicate with one another via a web of tiny fungal filaments beneath the ground. They’re alive in more ways than one. The photo of you on the stump is simply beautiful – you make the perfect prosthetic. Thanks for sharing.

    1. 🙂 Yes! Trees are alive in so many ways… to include the way they make us feel like we’re standing with someone and not something when we’re in their presence. I find that very cool – and I love that you do, too. And so amazing! That is so cool about their communication. Sometimes, I think we get so blinded by the ways of humans that we forget to find awe in the ways of other life. Thank you for sharing that! And my goodness… I feel as if thank you doesn’t really do your comments justice. Your words are so kind. And I so very much appreciate you! And thank you for your time. I know how precious that is.

      1. I will always find time for your posts Lindsay, as I appreciate great writing and thinking. It’s so true that we humans are often too arrogant to appreciate other life forms. But I think of trees as another type of person, and meeting those ancient ones in Savernake for example was like meeting a celebrity for me. They’re special. Glad you feel the same. ☺

  3. What a wonderful post. Warming the heart in one sentence and wrenching it in the next. I have to say I found it really touching and thought it was a fantastic tribute to not only the ancient guardians of our woods and fields, but also to all the servicemen and women that came home baring the scars (be they external or internal) of their service – they’re bloody heroes, all of them.

    Thank you so much for sharing (and for your service).

    1. Well said! Bloody heroes indeed! Working with these guys was the best experience of my life. I was in awe every day and because of that time, I find it difficult not to be in love with life. Recalling those heroes in the presence of this one was pretty great. Thank you, Stuart – for taking the time and for your heartfelt response.

  4. I started reading comments but had to stop so I can share while thoughts are fresh – and then read comments

    1) love how you led us up to the picture of you sitting on the stump (love that teal feather jacket) and it came right at the right time – you wrote about offering to be its prosthetic and then there you were
    2) laughing at the Xmas tree idea
    3) the Roots of this tree are stunning and I like how you had sections on these unusual above ground striking roots
    4) the little counselor side that flowed naturally from You – like we were just having a convo and not like you are trying to come across as smart (some writers do this and I yawn cos you can tell they are trying to prove something) and somliked the parts about ‘there is life still” and different stumps, different scars; what we have vs what was lost; the age and lines thing (and I did initially check for fin
    5) good point about the roots –

  5. Pressed reply before I was done

    Last one (think it was 6) I loved the back and forth from the amputees to the stump – a lot of flavor like a nicely seasoned dish

    1. ‘Nicely seasoned dish.’ Very nice. Thank you. 🙂 I have to say, I had a moment with that stump. So many memories flooding back and all the associations. All those conversations I remember with all those guys. It was my first unit out of school, so in so many ways that time will probably always be so special. And I was standing there getting all mad and all sad and then I suddenly heard them laughing and joking and their impervious resilience. So it got me thinking like them – they would have so made jokes about putting a prosthetic tree on a stump. And it made me smile. I was also impressed by the beauty and size of those roots, considering it seems like a relatively young tree. Again another metaphor, right? What we see is just the tip of the iceberg. Thank you. I always appreciate your time and I enjoy your reactions. You’re always so willing to think about it all and share your trains of thought. I think that’s very cool. Thanks again.

  6. well the pleasure to read your blog is mine (as noted before) and so thank you for giving me this tasty dish. – ha
    and not sure if you have ever heard of a show called Chopped. My family used to watch it ten years ago – or way back when my kids were little and before the show became huge.
    And we all had different takeaways from different shows (four chefs compete for money thru appetizers, main course and dessert) – and it was just a nice show to share as a family (for a while).
    Anyhow, a couple judges (esp. Amanda Freitag) would sometimes taste the food and mention extra flavors that came out – or notes of this and the subtle flavor pop of this – and that is sometimes how I feel with your work.
    In one sentence, you might mention some psychology angle – that I get and smile – or a social aspect (like how many people do obsess over age) and the phrase “the catch is community” and then going on to present a nice analogy for the benefits of unity. Or little mentions – like “Dying Gaul” that some readers surely know and picked up on that flavor – but for those who did not know it you gave us a hint (a memorial) so we got the essence of your point.
    So I guess I just have to say you have stuff I like. And it is so original.
    Few more thoughts I have about this piece:

    This came to me immediately when I reached the nice point about “how life is in the roots.” I remembered gardening days when we used soaker hoses to saturate those roots and not waste water by sprinkling on leaves.
    However, with trees – there is also life in the cambium layer – the growing part of the trunk – and so when that cambium image from Botany class came to my mind – I looked back at your stump and saw how that cambium layer was sawed right through – the deliberate cut…. and it added to the mood of the piece.
    And this is what a good piece of writing does, invites/allows the reader to connect info.
    The roots row above ground when a tree does NOT get the water deep enough. Well there are many reasons for trees to grow above ground roots – and you might know more of them as you are so immersed in nature Lindsay (like some species are more prone for it or some trees have loss of topsoil….and maybe there was a drought in this area and the tree here now has roots exposed; maybe it was cut to save its life?) –
    However, sometimes too much surface water readily available might be the cause and I was thinking of “entitlement” or times when people get things too easy.
    Sometimes when we are forced to dig deep for strength (or fight and wait for what we need) – we get more depth and develop better.
    I dunno – but those surface roots sure were artsy – eh? Maybe extra striking because it is not the norm too – if we saw roots like that all the time – you might’ve just passed it on by.

    1. We watched Chopped for years and loved it. We know Amanda well. We also watched the Japanese version of Iron Chef, and she always reminded me of those judges. They would say things like, “Your flavors open slowly on my tongue like morning glories on a crisp Spring day.” And it would crack us up. But it was also nice because they (and she) spent time trying to describe exactly their response to the food. And I thought – that’s got to be the kind of purposeful tasting a chef would want. To experiment and try to say things with their food and then watch the way different taste buds add to the conversation and inspire them to develop it further. And it’s very cool because I feel like you are Amanda to me. And I love that you mention how writing can invite readers to make connections. When I’m out in Nature, it inspires me in just that way. And maybe I’m just spending so much more time engulfed and engaged, but it is like reading a great book. And then blogging feels like the book club. And then you come along and point out things like the relevance of the “deliberate cut” and thoughts on water and root growth that I never considered. And even greater, your thoughts went to entitlement, which is completely different from victimization and suddenly it becomes so much more. And ultimately it’s just fun. Thank you for being Amanda and for taking the time to not only suss out what I’m trying to say but also to add to the spiciness and depth of the dish. Your comment made me think and made me giddy and truly inspires me. Thank you. 😊

      1. Whew – that was awesome to read –
        Feel so
        ((And have to get offline real
        Quick but need to come back with one more share that connects to this talk – a 1987 movie comes to mind!!)) be back soon

      2. 🙂 A 1987 movie???? I literally googled a list of 1987 movies to try and figure this out. lol. Harry and the Hendersons? just kidding. I have to say there were some pretty great movies in 1987.

      3. Okay – Babette’s Feast! Sorry to tease ya!
        But Lindsay – it is right up your alley – or I mean nature trail!
        Maybe you saw it already –
        If you need me to I can maybe drop a copy on drop box and share if that way later this month.
        It is a special movie and I will maybe post about it this spring

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