Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Perfection In a Hickory Stick

The first seemingly random thing occurred many years at a flea market where I was walking to kill some time. At one stand, I was looking through a collection of pocketknives for a unique one to wear to work when I came across a United States Marine Corp K-bar knife. The handle is bound in leather and the black steel blade only about eight inches in length but the weight felt solid in my grasp. I unsheathed the knife and held it in my hand, the balance perfectly center and giving it a sort of life all it's own. It felt perfect for whatever one might use it for. I rarely hunt and if I do it is only for game birds so I didn't need it for hunting. For farming, the sheath was too bulky hanging from your side and would forever be banging into things, so I didn't really need it for that. What then? I couldn't think of the answer but for ten dollars, who was I to question it?

The second seemingly random thing occurred a couple days later when a local golf course was expanding. A friend of mine who was a biology major needed some owl pellets to study in a class and I was craving some fresh morel mushrooms. I volunteered to help him look for owl pellets if he would look for mushrooms and so we had made an agreement. Coming back from our outing, me with no mushrooms and him with a bag of owl shit, we decided to cut across the golf course expansion and came across a pile of trees that had been cleared for one of the new holes.

When we neared the pile of trees, one in particular seemed to jump out at meet. A young hickory sapling maybe ten feet tall, still green with new spring leaves had been ripped out at the roots and shoved into the pile. The trunk was straight as an arrow and free of any limbs for the first six feet. By chance, I had grabbed my new K-bar knife on my way out the door with my friend and had brought it with me tucked into my pants in the small of my back. I knew what must be done.

I unsheaved the knife and within minutes had freed a five-foot section of that young hickory sapling from the pile, a task that would have taken forever with my pocketknife. Hickory is a hard wood and green hickory even harder and with a dull knife, cutting hickory is impossible. As I stepped out of the pile like a doctor from the operating room, I felt that I had given my patient a new life. I held the stick in my hand and new that like the knife, it was perfectly balanced and just felt right. Back in the dorms, I tucked my new hickory stick into the frame of my loft bed and let it cure. After many months, the result was a perfectly cured and extremely strong walking stick. So strong, I could hook if over two objects and do chin-ups on it.

Flash forward now over a decade later and I still have that walking stick leaning in a corner of my house. I have only used it a couple times and the only reason I can come up with is because it is just too perfect. When you have something of such perfection and beauty, one just can't mar it with mundane things like hiking. So it remains in the corner for the occasional time when I heft it in my hands to feel the perfection of strength and balance combined into one five foot length of hickory.

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