Bark discusses stumps in the Oregonian

Representatives from Bark, Weyerhaeuser, and others speak about what a tree stump means to them...

"A stump is just never a stump," says Alex P. Brown, executive director of the nonprofit group Bark. "I've never seen just one stump where there's not another stump and then another and then a road that leads out to the stumps. And if you follow that road, it will lead you, probably, to more stumps."

When Brown sees a stump, he also sees the 4,000 miles of roads on the Mount Hood National Forest that lead to stumps and threaten drinking water, habitats and recreational access, in his opinion.

"I think it would be very difficult for any Oregonian to drive to the end of the road, get out of the car and stand at the edge of a clear cut and not have a visceral reaction. It's a very powerful experience. And particularly in Mount Hood, which is publicly owned. Very often the clear cuts are in the middle of mature old-growth forest, so when you are standing at the edge looking into this field of stumps, you are reminded to your right and left of what used to be there."

Where Brown sees dead trees, Frank Mendizabal, spokesman for Weyerhaeuser Inc., which owns more than 20 million acres of timber land in the United States and Canada, sees something entirely different.

Mendizabal, who has worked in the woods, sees history when he sees an old springboard stump standing five or six feet off the ground, reflecting cutting methods from earlier times. Loggers once drilled holes into trees, then inserted boards to stand on while cutting through the trunk above the lower, thicker part. He sees advancing technology when he sees stumps at ground level. He sees the future in "nurse" stumps, old stumps that "nurse" new trees.

"To me, it's like the history of the forest and the future of the forest," he says. "It also symbolizes the renewability of it."

In this economy, with home construction slowing, he doesn't necessarily see a paycheck when he sees a stump. "Yes, I guess you could say when you look at them, that some people see dollar signs -- as well as a tree that became a log that was made into a useable product.

"That's a part of it, too."

***

A visitor to Portland in 1847 saw so many stumps along the banks of the Willamette River and on the streets of the fledgling community that he snidely remarked there were more stumps than people.

Stumptown, the visitor declared.

The nickname stuck.

***

Michael Brophy, who grew up in Portland, was driving to the coast in the early 1990s to visit his parents when a clear cut caught his eye. As an artist interested in "the interjection of human history into natural history," he saw something to paint.

"I guess I'll get in trouble for saying this, but there was an odd beauty . . . apocalyptic . . . sublime . . . just destructive as hell, and massive."

His first painting of a clear cut hung in the lobby of a downtown Portland office building until it was quietly removed after office workers complained. They wanted a painting of a forest, not a clear cut.

Brophy's stump art didn't sit well with radical enviros, either. He was taken to task for making a weak political statement because his work too closely walked the razor's edge between the two sides. Brophy, for his part, was just pleased his art struck a chord.

What he saw in a stump led him to historic photos and research into logging in the Northwest. He spent a decade exploring the idea in his art before moving on to painting eastern Oregon's vastly different landscape.

Now when he sees a stump, he sees a familiar composition. "I feel like I have painted that before."

***

"A time traveler."

That's what Doug Decker, forest historian with the Oregon Department of Forestry, sees when he sees a stump. In the rings of the trees, he sees layers of history and past life.

"In a way, they are a reminder of what has happened before. There's a lot more there than meets the eye. Often you'll see a springboard cut and know that was shaped by human hands up to 80 or so years ago, and it grew there maybe 300 years before that, which is telling you a story. It might have some burn on it, which is telling you some other story. Another stump may have a hemlock or a cedar or some huckleberries growing from the stump, and there's a whole other story."

The Tillamook Forest Center was designed around an existing stump so visitors could see one up close. An artist's interpretation of the stump's roots are woven into the carpet, which tells yet another story.

"What do these stories tell us that's pertinent today?" Decker asks.

"One that comes to mind is the notion that the forest we know today is different than the forest of the past. It is a resilient place. It is dynamic and able to respond to lots of different forces. I think we can listen to these stories and realize the forest is on a kind of time continuum, and time is an important story."

***********************************************
Quotes above excerpted from a story that ran in the Sunday, April 27, 2008, Oregonian article, "Behold, the stump," by
Larry Bingham. The complete article can be found at http://www.oregonlive.com/O/relationships/index.ssf?/base/living/1208823....