Sometime around 1990 I broke a shovel while trying to lever a stump out of my wife’s garden. I walked up the hill to our neighborhood hardware store and asked one of the boys there for a good shovel. I’d like to think this was bearded Greg, our favorite. Whoever it was handed down a shovel from the wall rack and said, “This is our best.”

Greg wasn’t kidding. I used that shovel in the yards and gardens of the three houses we’ve owned, digging holes for the A-Z of green growing things that Special D has planted and digging out the remains of plants that displeased her. I moved rocks. I dug post holes. I dug a ditch when one of our pipes burst underground and the plumber, who couldn’t maneuver a back hoe in the confined space at the side of our house, threatened to do it himself for a breathtaking $100 per hour.

I levered out many a stump of a plant or tree that just didn’t work anymore. I’m good at it; so good, in fact, that my metal name is Stümp Gryndr, though the sporting press refers to me as Death to Rooted Things. Here’s an azalea stump I vanquished in 2009, with a 35-pound corgi, the late Teddy, for scale:

Teddy digs it out 0909
Notice: No corgis were hurt or inconvenienced in the extraction and removal of this stump. This corgi received a transfer of one (1) Alpo Snap as soon as he was released from duty.

But last week I fought a four-year-old vine maple stump and the stump won. My shovel gave me 25 years of good service. I wish I could give you the name of the manufacturer but I long ago wore any corporate iconography off the handle.

Recycle, reuse, spend some intimate time with your tools
As a New Englander, I hate waste. What was I going to do with a broken shovel? Turn it into a stake for the garden. You pound these into the corners and when you drag your hoses across the lawn the stake keeps you from decapitating something your spouse might get wicked mad about.

Here’s the patient before surgery.

Shovel 1

Cut off the blade. I took it to my local recycler and lowered it, after a moment of respectful silence, into the metals bin.

Shovel 2

I sliced off the rubber jacket, which amazingly had stayed snug to the handle all these years, and exposed the original color of the wood.

Shovel 3

Then, through a mysterious process known only to me and Black & Decker, I sharpened one end.

Shovel 4

The result is a stake that’s just over a yard long (one full meter to the Russian Federation reader who visited this blog today). Use a heavy hammer to bury it about halfway. Here’s a stake I made earlier this summer:

Shovel 5

What if you don’t want to wait until you break a shovel?
You could invite me over to break one. Better yet, go to estate sales. The people who are passing away now and taking leave of their earthly possessions bought long-handled garden tools in an era when those handles were made of a dense wood that lasts a long time underground and exposed to the weather. I usually find them for a dollar or two. Recycle the metal business end and I won’t yell at you!

On the day I broke my shovel, I walked up the hill to our neighborhood hardware store and asked one of the boys there for a good shovel. I told him my story and said, “I’ll be back for my next shovel around 2040.” He said, solemnly, “I will not be working here.”

Next post: I’m gonna fill you full of lead (No. 2-5/10).

Random Pick of the Day
Petra Haden and Bill Frisell, Petra Haden and Bill Frisell (2003)
Includes their exquisite covers of Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe” and Coldplay’s “Yellow,” though you also have to put up with their perspectives on “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.”

Random Pan of the Day
Randy Newman, Land of Dreams (1988)
Some beautiful piano work here, particularly on “Dixie Flyer,” but most of it sounds like Mr. Newman’s many many many soundtracks. The rap parodies were funny in 1988, if you were white and nervous about rap. And yet this is the guy who gave us Sail Away (how can you beat “You Can Leave Your Hat On”?) and the soundtrack to The Natural (which brought the whole movie to life).

  1. Accused of Lurking says:

    Just scanning the pictures, I thought you were making props for Run-DMSteve the Vampire Slayer. After reading the text, I know you are actually Run-DMSteve the Plant Saver.

  2. Mr. Seaside says:

    Steve–Nice to see that you’re doing some productive work. Though it is a little bit squirrely to take credit for the stump removal in 2009 that was mostly Teddy’s work (evidence the bite marks). And you might have your recycling priorities topsy turvy. You KEEP the blade of the shovel and buy a new handle to put into it (after carefully burning out the remains of the old one in your handy, backyard burn barrel). And be sure to treat the end of that newly made stake with some strong, poisonous compound so that it has a chance to outlast the new handle you buy for the (never to be discarded) blade. I suggest that you increase your repertoire of tools by adding a quality mattock and/or adze to the mix.

    Question: When is a shovel a lever?? Answer: When tool abuse becomes a lawful practice. As Mr. Natural says: “Use the right tool for the job!” I’m not trying to appear all high and might here…I broke the handle of my razor clam (siliqua patula) digging tool after 25 years of use, and I freely admit that I was using it improperly in its final hour. I still have the blade…never dispose of (or depose) a good friend.

    PS–I do admire your appreciation for the fine, old woods of yore.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Mr. Seaside exposes a divide as powerful and eternal as that of liberal vs. conservative, sugar vs. plain, or Red Sox vs. Yankees. Do you toss the blade and keep the handle or install a new handle to the old blade? In my experience, the joining of the new handle with the old blade (or hoe, or rake) is never as strong as the original. The new assembly breaks soon enough. Also, burning out the remains of the old handle is a tricky process that often upsets the neighbors, especially if you have to improvise because you don’t have a burn barrel. I’m not saying that my side of this ideological debate is right or wrong, just that I’m comfortable with my side. (Mr. Seabrook’s hilarious video looks for a compromise.)

      I’ve also found that long-handled shovels make great levers! You just have to know how far to push the levering. In the case of the vine maple, I could only get to it from one side. This gave the shovel too much to do. It was my mistake, and upon reflection what I should’ve done to the damn stump was set fire to it, although this would’ve upset the neighbors and probably also my wife.

      When I donated my old laptop to charity, I felt like I was abandoning an old friend. But I did it anyway.

      Teddy was such a big help in the 2009 stump removal, I finally had to put him in lockdown to stop the barking!

      • Mr. Seaside says:

        At one time I owned a 9- or 10-foot long, approx. 1 1/4-inch diameter, 6-sided metal pry bar typically used in certain aspects of concrete work. I employed it a few times for various projects. Finally, it felt so damn heavy just taking it out of the garage that I set it out by the curb and someone hauled it away for free. If I had known you back then and knew of your penchant for stump removal, I would have gladly delivered it to your doorway. You could have probably pried out a fully grown, Big Leaf Maple tree using it.

        I did not realize that there is such a ‘divide’ over the discard or save issue pertaining to shovel parts (their use as a lever or NOT is a separate issue). I have the view that differences of opinion are just that and nobodies opinion accurately reflects ‘what is,’ nor prescribes the necessary action(s) to be taken in any given situation. I will not be discarding (nor recycling) you as a friend over any differences that we may have regarding these shovel issues. In fact, I openly invite you to borrow my 6-foot long, vintage car axle shaft, which my dad used as an all-purpose lever, whenever you need it for your prying ways. You might also check with your father to see what he has available within his vast inventory of STUFF.

      • Run-DMSteve says:

        You owned a 9- or 10-foot long, 6-sided metal pry bar?? Are these things even available to civilians? I try not to own any tool that weighs as much as me. As for your vintage car axle shaft — Mr. Seaside, your father was a man among men, a boulder among rocks. PLEASE don’t bring that thing over to my house. I’m not worthy.

        Regarding discarding vs. saving, I wrote that I’m a New Englander, but a classic New Englander would’ve followed your method and attached a new handle. I guess then that I’m a New Wave New Englander. Differences of opinion may be just that to you and me, but in the rarefied world of political commentators and talking heads with perfect hair, these differences are everything. Meanwhile, thanks for not discarding or recycling me. I promise not to push, file, stamp, index, brief, debrief, or number you.

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