Friday, July 13, 2012
Morning Thanks--one sweet handsaw
When the man who lived in this house for the last 43 years walked into our garage yesterday and looked over his tool bench, now my tool bench--well, my rented tool bench--he couldn't help but notice how totally bereft that wall-length, hand-built bastion looked. "Hmmm," he said, in all innnocence, "it's lucky I left you all those tools in the shed."
Not all academics can be neatly stereotyped as I can. I have plenty of professorial friends with tool benches, men who know their way around carburetors, plastic plumbing pipes, and circuit boxes. Me?--I'm hopeless. Take me out of the study, the library, and the classroom, and I'm not worth the shoe leather required to move me around. When Jesse James held up a train, he wouldn't steal from men with calloused hands. I'd be penniless in a minute.
But for the last several days, I've spent more time in a tool shed than an incorrigible kid, more time than I have in my entire life. I'm getting callouses from scythes, chain saws, and hatchets. Yesterday I cleared brush in the way I always imagined George W doing it on his Texas ranch; this morning, my arms creak in ways they've never creaked before.
Yesterday, I looked all over for the little handsaw I took along from the old place, the one I used to cut the limbs off a dead pine the day before. Couldn't find it. Don't remember where I put it. But the former owner left me an overflowing supply of tools out back, so I looked around the shed until I found one, a handsome little handsaw, no more than a foot long, in its own fancy holster.
I took it down to the river with an assortment of other sweet gifts and proceeded to clear at least a visual path down to the water, which is as low, I'm told, as it's ever been, due to lack of rain. Down came the brush and the branches--with a long-handled sheers, a scythe, and a weed-whacker that never pulled any more difficult service than weeds in a sidewalk.
AND that little handsaw, which was pure blessing. The old one I'd used the day before--forty years old and never sharpened, something of a child's toy--was like pruning branches with tooth floss. Seriously, that unholstered handsaw sliced through branches as if they were farmer cheese.
Which reminded me of something I've heard people say, an ancient truism, I suppose, but one which had never before registered richly in my professor's brain: "there ain't nothin' like a good tool."
It's no longer theory. Now I know why people say things like that and why they treasure them--the good ones work. That's the whole deal.
Yesterday, I believe, was Thoreau's birthday. Just one of his stinging indictments against the society of his day was that the division of labor makes us all no more than "the tools of our tools." A carpenter becomes little more than a hammer, he wrote in Walden.
I love Thoreau, always have. But he had no right to put down tools like that, at least not that little handsaw.
What you don't learn in retirement.
Somewhere in the last week or so I passed 1500 blog entries, many of them expressing morning thanks for this or that or the other thing. It took me all of five years to say thanks for good tools, a little handsaw no more than a foot long.
Good night, it did fine work.