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Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Right Tool for the Job

Henry Ford said of the Model T, you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black. The motto today might be “You can have any item you want, as long as the market decides it’s what you need.” The more expensive and elaborate the better.

It was a warm and rainy spring in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Weeds began taking over the back yard. The front yard and sidewalk looked like reclaimed wilderness area.

I got the push mower out and did the grass, but could not find my grandfather’s sickle. For anyone unfamiliar with what a sickle is, they resemble this:


Notice the absence of a hammer, as in “Hammer and–“. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by the Russian Federation. Who knows whether you can buy a sickle in Russia now?

The weeds were growing. I went to our local Home Depot, intending to replace it. I asked a sales associate for a sickle. “Oh, you want a weed trimmer,” the kind salesperson said. “Gas or electric?”

Weed trimmers (aka weed whackers) cost USD 80 and up. They make a lot of noise. They require gasoline (currently 3.49 a gallon) or an extension cord which is never long enough.

If a rolling expanse of terrain surrounds your McMansion, you can buy a garden tractor:

You can probably then also hire someone to drive it for you and thus contribute to economic growth.

If you inherited forty (or a thousand) acres and a mule, send the mule to the ASPCA for retirement and get one of these babies; no doubt with an air-conditioned cab, GPS and quadraphonic sound:

After unsuccessfully looking for sickles at Lowes and Kmart, I went to the hardware store down the street. A disappearing breed, but there are some left in the world. The little bell rang as entered the door. I trod upon dusty floorboards perhaps laid down in the Eisenhower era. The gray-haired lady behind the cash register looked like she might have voted for him. I inhaled the scent of varnish, glue, and wood. Household, plumbing and garden implements lined the shelves cozily. You could buy anything from matches to mothballs.

“I am looking for a sickle,” I said.

The lady looked puzzled. “A scythe?”

“No. A sickle. It’s a hand tool about yay long.” I spread my hands.

She smiled. “I know. We used to sell them. Let me ask my husband.”

She tottered down the steps to the command center of the operation in the basement to confer with her better (?) half. A few minutes later she returned.

“Our supplier stopped making them. Have you tried online?”

I went on E-bay and found few sickles (no doubt from the Soviet era) being sold as antiques. It seemed silly to bid USD 50.00 for an item I should have been able to purchase for 20.00. Besides, I wanted to buy local.

I traveled to West Virginia to visit a friend.

Almost Heaven

Friend & Fishing Companion

Another Friend & Fishing Companion

We went to a Farm & Tractor Supply store. These stores are a down-and-dirty cross between a smaller Lowes and K-mart for farmers. They have everything from insecticides to water treatment, including weed whackers. They also have hand tools.

One wall was filled with saws, picks, shovels and hoes. The thirty-dollar machete by Fiskar looked pretty impressive. I imagined hacking my way through the jungle defending myself against snakes, wild reptiles or yellow jackets.

It was a corn knife that I bought. A foot long, with a curved blade, it looked very similar to my grandfather’s sickle :

It was made in Taiwan. “Cheap shit,” my friend muttered. “Now if it were made in China –”

It was ten dollars. For chopping down a few weeds, it was the right tool for the job. Until someone finds my sickle.



Cranberries and Capitalism

Americans are often obsessed with big dreams, economic success and getting ahead. Our history includes capitalist icons like J.D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. But it also includes Henry David Thoreau.

The Virtues of Daydreaming  (Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker)

What Money Can’t Buy by Michael Sandel (B&N Review)

New:  Leisure and Productivity, essay by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Chokecherries & Wild Grapes on the Erie Canal

Chokecherries & Wild Grapes on the Erie Canal (Lanigan)

From Wild Fruits (Thoreau on Cranberrying):

I expected little of this walk, yet it did pass through the side of my mind that perhaps, on this very account it would turn out well, as also the advantage of having a purpose, however small, to be accomplished — of letting your deliberate wisdom and foresight, however small, in the house to some extent direct and control your steps… I have always reaped unexpected and incalculable advantages from carrying out at last, however tardily, any little enterprise which my genius suggested to me long ago as a thing to be done, some step to be take, however slight, out of the usual course….

Our employment generally is tinkering, mending the old worn-out teapot of society… Many of our days should be spent, not in vain expectations and lying on our oars, but in carrying out deliberately and faithfully the hundred little purposes which every man’s genius must have suggested to him. Let your life not be wholly without object, though it is only to ascertain the flavor of a cranberry, for it will not be only the quality of an insignificant berry that you will have tasted, but the flavor of your life to that extent, and it will be such as sauce as no wealth can buy.

…I enjoyed this cranberrying very much, notwithstanding the wet and cold, and the swamp seemed to be yielding its crop to me alone, for there are none else to pluck and value it. I told the proprietor once that they grew here, but he, learning that they were not abundant enough to be gathered for the market, has probably never thought of them since. I am the only person in the township who regards them or knows of them, and I do not regard them in the light of their pecuniary value. I have no doubt I felt richer wading there with my two pockets full, treading on wonders at every step, than any farmer going to market with a hundred bushels which he had raked, or hired to be raked.

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