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That Stump Tells a Story

A stump in our backyard has been decaying for uncounted years. The center is totally gone, but all around, the stump’s sides stand like spires, monuments that tell a story. When we first came to live here, I paid little attention to it, sitting on the hillside shaded by mature trees near the edge of our property.

Then I began to take an interest in old stumps. (You say, wow, Stan has too much time on his hands!) I often walk the dog through the woods across the road, and while he is wandering around enjoying a banquet of smells, I began to notice a number of ancient stumps decaying like the one near our house. These are the remains of the pine forest that once stood here, as it did across much of Michigan. You can still see a few of these tall straight pines in rare places like Hartwick Pines State Park, north of Grayling. They were the target of the logging business in the 1800's. Our stump is part of that story.

The logging era began around 1840 at Flint and Saginaw when promoters spoke of the forests of Michigan as inexhaustible. Later, sawmills in places like Manistee and Ludington cut the logs into lumber to be shipped to growing places like Chicago. The land logging companies left behind was barren with countless thousands of stumps. But the trash wood and branches loggers had trimmed from the big tree trunks was also tinder. Forest fires, or trash and brush fires became common. A great fire in 1871 took 2,500 lives.

Here’s where our stump comes in. One whole side of our stump is covered with a layer of tough black charcoal, half-burnt wood you can see in the picture. That charcoal surface is testimony to a raging fire that swept through here. It may have been July 27, 1891. At that time the village of Bachelor, about four miles south of our home, included a lumber mill, a shingle mill, post office, railroad depot, three stores, a school, two hotels and a boarding house, plus numbers of private homes. The fire actually began about noon two miles southwest of the town, on the O’Donnel farm, where three neighbors had been talking about harvesting the wheat which was dry and waiting. A brisk wind soon spread the fire across to Bachelor, through some dense woods that still remained uncut at the time as well as the barren cut-over trash lands. When the fire was over, the village was gone, except for two homes, a store, and the depot. The people drifted away, their property and hopes destroyed.

In a few years, the railroad moved the depot to nearby Fountain. Now, I don’t know for sure if the fire drifted our way, through the undeveloped, unpopulated area around our lake. But our stump is a reminder of a day when fierce flames destroyed everything around. Some folks consider history just a subject in school about old things we don’t care about. But for others of us, history is a collection of stories about adventures, disasters, and courage displayed by people who have gone before.

I regard that old decaying black stump with respect as I head down the hill with our dog. He always stops to investigate it, over and over again, as a dog will do. To me it’s more than an oddity. It is a testimony to a fire, the terror, the losses and the recovery that eventually took place. There are homes and cottages there at Round Lake, and the Bachelor Evangelical Covenant Church carries on the name of a village that once was.

As a breeze sweeps up from our little lake and cools my face, I ponder the peaceful natural world here for me to enjoy, and I have a deep sense of gratitude for the abundant beauty God has provided us, including that silent stump, which speaks of tough times long past.

© 2021 Stanley Hagemeyer

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