22 July 2012

Can you dig it?

Dig it out, I mean. I didn't know if, at age 63, I could do it. Well, I could, and I did. Walt helped by getting out the ax at the critical moment and severing the last thick root that was holding the stump in the ground. Then we were finally able to pick it up and move it.

Before moving to France, the last time I had done physical work — hard labor — was in 1971, when I was 22 years old and had just graduated from college — university, they say outside the U.S.A. I spent that summer of 1971 working for the Pickard Roofing Company in Durham, North Carolina. (I'm leaving out all the times we moved all our belongings from apartment to apartment, house to house, city to city over the years.)

Me in silhouette taking a picture of the stump I dug out yesterday.

My first assignment at Pickard was helping a crew of professional roofers — couvreurs, or "coverers" in French — put a new tar paper and hot tar roof on a tobacco warehouse. It was hell on high, meaning two or three stories up during a torrid North Carolina summer. I remember hauling big heavy rolls of tar paper on my shoulder up a long tall ladder.

Digging, cutting, lifting, and pulling

Temperatures on the roof must have approached 45ºC, or 110ºF. At the end of the day, my clothes and shoes were spotted with sticky black tar, which we melted in big ovens while up on the roof and mopped onto the tar-paper-covered surface. A Durham tobacco warehouse can cover thousands of square feet — a full city block, in U.S. terms. The job took six weeks to complete.

Our house on the edge of the vineyard, with fog
down in the river valley below

So 32 years later, in 2003, I retired (or just quit work) and Walt and I moved to France. Ever since — nine years now — I've been working like a dog. Sweating. Aching. Recovering. It's either sanding or painting, stripping off wallpaper, tilling up garden plots, cutting back blackberry brambles, pruning tree limbs, raking up leaves, or hauling wheelbarrow loads of junk or debris from one place to another.

And now it's digging out tree stumps. Two plum trees (R.I.P.) in the back yard blew over in a big wind storm two or three years ago. Only now are we finally digging out the stumps. Doing it turned out to be easier than I feared. The plan is to plant a cherry tree where the two old plum trees once stood.

I hope the exercise (or work) doesn't kill me. Time will tell.


  1. It's probably what's keeping you in such good shape. Just don't overdo it.

  2. You're inspirational, Ken. If only it weren't drizzling out at the moment, I'd rush outside and...do something.

    I really like the photo of the mist rising up against the background of the ridge in the distance.

  3. What Ellen said! Supposedly, those aches are old muscle fibers wearing out and new ones growing.

  4. You made me realize all the efforts
    both of you have to make to live in the countryside...

    But, please stay alive ;-) to enable us to go on admiring the beautiful pics Walt and you take and have the pleasure to spend good moments with both of you ;-)


  5. Too much work. I'm so glad I live in an apartment.

  6. What Ellen said -- exercise is good, but do not decompose yourself. In that second picture, the stump looked to me like a giraffe head. Strange, the things one sees quickly.

  7. I bet it feels good to be rid of the stumps! Lewis uses something he calls a "come along" to pull stuff up and give him super powers.

    I hope you were paid well to risk life and limb on the high hell of that huge roof. That is the worst summer job ever. Our friend Conn worked in a steel mill near Chicago one summer and lived to tell the tale.

  8. Evelyn, what is that "come along" thing. Sounds like we need one.

    At the Pickard Roofing Company (I looked it up and it still exists) I made $65.00 a week that summer of '71. But after six weeks they gave me a bonus of $65.00 because they said I was the only college student who had ever lasted that long on such a job. Then they gave me easy jobs for the next six weeks, before I drove off to Illinois and grad school.

  9. It looks like this: http://www.homedepot.com/buy/tools-hardware/auto/4-ton-comealong-with-3-hooks-cable-puller-70914.html
    I'm not sure how it works, but it makes pulling stuff easier.

    You deserved the extra $65!

    Lewis worked in a machinery company a couple of summer.


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