One to the other

My garden tools were bought before the turn of the century. Not by me, but by my father.

The handles on the shovel and the hoe are of hickory. The hoe has a thin blade of steel, hammered out by a blacksmith of a long-gone generation. How he managed to sweat this tool so tightly to its handle is a mystery to me. Decades of slicing into the coarse soils of Long Island and Maine have not loosened it. I suppose he served the seven-year apprenticeship of those days and, along with a thorough knowledge of his trade, had that valuable ingredient of craftsmanship - integrity.

Whenever springtime's piping birds and fragrant breezes call me to the garden , I delight in taking ''holt'' of the handles, as old farmhands used to say. Calloused palms which belonged to my market-gardener father have given them a dull patina, the glaze of the work ethic.

But there is more than appearance to the handles. Somehow I know a mystical experience when I work with them. Radiating from the wood is the energy my father gave to it over his lifetime. Even the sounds the tools make as I lift or turn or cultivate the earth are echoes of what I used to hear when I followed down the rows, a little boy fascinated by a man at work.

Between the earth and the shovel, between the weeds and the hoe, a hundred years' war is being fought. Someday, I realize, the weeds will win. They have won over the stone streets of cities, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, that autocrat at the breakfast table, has told us. Yet even in a rose-red ruin, or in a primitive cave, man's tools survive as well.

Meanwhile, I give life to the tools by using them, and they give another's life back to me.

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