The stump seemed harder and colder than he ever recalled, but he didn’t mind. After all, sitting here was better than the option he had been given last month.
It was large, as stumps go, but not as big as the one he occupied with his grandfather 67 years ago. Same hillside, but the original stump was now but a graying memory, like so many things in his life.
His grandfather sat here with him and taught him a lesson he would never forget: See. Think. Do. “See that leaf by your boot?”
“Sure, so what? It’s just a leaf.”
“Oh, but what kind? Maple? Oak? Hickory?”
“The leaf did, before it fell. Let’s try to see deeper. This is October. Is it last year’s leaf or did it just fall today?”
The 10-year-old picked it up. “Still part green. Probably just fell today.”
“Could it have been yesterday? Look, the stem. You tell me.”
“Very dry. Not today.”
“Could those little yellow spots be from a disease, or a bug, or maybe just old age?”
“Dunno. Who cares?”
“The leaf probably cared.”
The boy looked into his grandfather’s sunken grey eyes and began to think maybe there was more to sitting on a stump with the old man than just passing time and getting out of his chores around the farm. Grandpa took the boy to that stump on the first Saturday of every month. Driving rain, deep snow, sweltering hot or bitterly cold, they sat on that same stump. Well, until Grandpa couldn’t climb the hill around the pasture anymore. Then the ritual was maintained by the boy, alone.
He taught the boy to see, not just look. “Yes son, I see the deer. Is it alone? Is it a buck or a doe? Maybe a fawn? Right, a buck. But is it the buck you want? Think, son. What would you do with it? We have a cow and four pigs in the freezers already. Would you give the meat to someone who really needs it? Are you prepared to be the one responsible for that creature’s life?”
The boy slowly raised his new gun and aimed at his first deer.
“Before you take the safety off, you’re not done thinking yet, son. He’s coming at us head-on. Should you wait for a better angle? If he turns left, will you have a clear shooting lane between the trees? What if he turns right? Is there another hunter behind that deer?”
The boy was getting annoyed with all this “thinking.” Suddenly, the wind shifted to their back, the deer instantly picked up the human scent and bolted. The boy raised his gun and aimed but Grandpa quickly put his hand on the barrel and lowered the muzzle.
“Why didn’t you let me do it, Grandpa?”
“You were not ready to do it. You didn’t fully think through the consequences. You see, son, we see to learn what we need to think about. And we think so we can make the best decision about doing. Or, in this case, not doing.”
The boy was understandably upset. Would he ever get over not shooting the deer? He would, and he did.
Today, more than half a century later, having followed that lesson so many times in his life, he understood it more deeply than ever. The lesson that served him so well, so many times. See. Think. Do.
Through tears that were welling up in his now-sunken eyes, he watched his rusty farm pickup wending its way around the edge of the pasture and up the hill, stopping next to his cold hard stump.
“C’mon Pop, hop in. Gotta take you for your first chemo treatment.”
He reflected on the hundreds of Saturdays on that stump. “I’ve been thinking about that, son, a lot. I’ve decided I’m not going to do it.”
The younger man tried to remember the last time he sat on the stump with his father.