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When Decay Gives Way

For the last three years, two large tree stumps have stood in my yard, awaiting reinvention. G saw them on the side of the road one day and somehow managed to heave them into our car. I can’t remember how we got them into the backyard—they were unbelievably heavy with water weight, but I had the vision to turn each stump into a natural end table.

So, we got ‘em in place and there they sat together throughout the pandemic, suffering their own sort of illness. Mold wriggled its way between the bark’s crevices. Fermented cherries and delicate mosses stained the tops. I began to doubt whether they could withstand anymore damage before I had the time to tackle ‘em, but then they began to split.

It’s a funny thing to watch decay give way to something so beautiful.

The bark started to peel naturally like a snake shedding its skin. With a gentle pull, it came loose and revealed an amber wood, so smooth and pristine, it’s hard to believe it was there all along. The bark fell, along with my doubts. This could work.

I could fashion a metaphor about life’s challenges, perhaps about one’s self-image, or even compare the fallen bark to self-care of some nature. In another time of life, I likely would have. But this was one of those things that I felt. Witnessing the reveal after worrying about the stump for so long was rewarding. In the end, it worked out, not by force or my encouragement. It just happened, and it was beautiful.

Once the bark peeled, I grabbed a hand sander, tied my hair, and planted my ass on the concrete. It took several days to sand away at the wood. In some places, it removed the stunning marbling (to my heart’s distress), and in other areas, the sander appeared to revive the dulled dead. And finally, it was smooth enough to run my fingers across without fear of splinters. My body ached from days of strain, and my lungs weren’t too happy (despite the mask I wore to avoid breathing sawdust). But oh man…

I tried a matte finish first, to protect the wood and preserve its color, but soon I realized I was envisioning something glossier. Something that received light and tossed it back. So I sacrificed a brush and painted the wood with glossy polyurethane. Once, twice.

Maybe I should have done another coat—one day I likely will, as I’ve already scratched the surface. But I kind of like the scratches, too. My first vision for this project was to create a beautiful, natural end-table that I could use to photograph minerals or hold my plants. And the stump received its first marks realizing that vision, at the hand of a gorgeous smokey quartz cluster. It sort of feels like it belongs.

And so the once-decayed beauty bares its first scars. Is this the start of another cycle? Can the tree never truly escape nature’s rhythm? Must we all bruise and heal, just to crack and be restored?

Maybe I haven’t left the metaphors behind…

I’m thrilled with the way this project turned out. That feeling you get when a project comes full circle after patience and persistence—that feeling is everything. I try to bask in that feeling every morning when the light touches the end table and reflects to greet me. It warms my heart and has me searching for the next project, the next tangible “thing” to create and shape.

I wonder what it will be…

All my love,
Sam ✧

© 2023 Samantha Burgett
Photos: my images


  • Nicole Smith
    June 18, 2023 at 8:02 pm

    Stunning. You did an amazing job and it is gorgeous. I loved the metaphors.

    • Samantha Burgett
      June 21, 2023 at 12:46 pm

      Thank you! It was a lot of work, but I like how it turned how too!


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