Have you ever tried to dig something out by the root?

We had a small tree that had taken up residence (and space) in the house garden and needed to be removed.  We have three wonderful WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) who are onsite and living and working here for a while.  They undertook this task, which kept getting bigger and more overwhelming, as such tasks often do.

First, they cut off the above-ground growth.  This is the most satisfying part of the job, and if you are just interested in cosmetic improvement, is where a lot of people stop.  Cut the plant off at ground level, cover over the remaining stem with some dirt, what could possibly go wrong?  I’m sure we all know the answer to that–the roots just send up new shoots.  Plants have evolved to endure such harsh pruning and store enough life in their roots to endure.  We knew that the tree would soon enough spring back and start growing again.

So Emil, Gabe and Devon, our WWOOFers, started to dig.  Not knowing for sure what they would encounter, they dug around the roots to try to get them out.

Soon, they had a hole that was two feet or more deep and at least that big across.  The roots of this tree went very deep!  The hole revealed a huge thick root stock that showed signs of being cut down at soil level before.  It was several years old by the look of it.

Just digging was not doing the job.  Because these roots went so deep, it was decided that the workers were going to take an axe to the roots at the spot a couple of feet below soil level in hopes that this would kill off this unwanted plant.  They got the axe and started taking swings at it.  Devon had never handled an axe before, and had to be taught how.  When it was time for them to actually try it, they wanted us to “not look” because they felt so awkward and afraid that they would do it wrong or look foolish.  We honored that request, because we’ve all been there before, haven’t we?

The rootstock was several inches thick, and tough.  The axe was passed around and everyone had a turn to apply their strength and help cut it off.  Finally, after everyone had whacked away at it, the roots were separated from the stem and we declared it good enough and filled the hole back up with soil.  We are all hoping that that was a good enough effort and that the tree will not make a reappearance.

It makes me think of some of the conditions in the world and in our country that we are now confronting.  Robin and I have been going to Black Lives Matter protests now for several weeks.  In a way, it is like trying to dig something out by the root.  We have been “pruning” our systemic racism, haven’t we?  When it pops up into the open, we cut if off at the soil level and cover the roots over with soil.  In a way, that is what cancel culture is.  When someone is caught behaving like a racist, we threaten their job or their friendships, but what are we doing to get to the root of why people feel the way that they do?

I don’t claim to have answers as to how we “fix” this problem.  I do think that the analogy of Gabe, Emil and Devon working together to remove the root holds up though.  It takes all of us.  It’s too big of a job for just one of us.  We have to use unfamiliar tools and risk looking foolish or being wrong.  But we HAVE to dig down as deep as we can if we are ever to have any hope of getting it out.  We have to dig down to the roots.