Bamboo seems like such a good idea when you first plant it. A bamboo grove is beautiful and mysterious, and an individual cane seems innocent enough. Don’t let that fool you. Bamboo is intent on world domination. It is patient, and cunning. It senses exactly where it can be the greatest nuisance, and then develops a strong desire to go there. It will travel 50 yards, silently, hidden underground to emerge where you least expect it. It is relentless. I’ve cut down a hundred sprouts in an hour only to turn around and see 20 more emerging where I just passed.
We have an annual ritual every spring in which we try to convince bamboo that it isn’t welcome in certain places, and a sling blade is ideal for this purpose. I’ve been using a sling blade since I was 12. I had a good one, probably from Sears, though the patina long ago covered any company logo. I recently retired it for something new.
We prefer to shop locally, but I didn’t like the looks of the “imported” sling blade in the hardware store so I turned to the almighty internet to find something better. Curiously, there were very few options available. Apparently hand tools are now valued mainly for their decorative value, physical work being somewhat of an anachronism. There were scores of electric and some gasoline-powered tools, but the word is that internal combustion in all its forms is frowned upon by the socially advanced. I paused in my shopping to imagine working on a fire line with a battery powered chainsaw while my Fire Management Officer sent us good vibes and meditated on rain, but I lack the vision.
After some effort shopping, I settled on a model that seemed appropriate. We do the best we can. We read the reviews, disregard those written by manufacturers and buffoons, look at the pictures and make our best guesses. When my new sling blade arrived I opened the box to find that it looked just like the picture. It would have made a nice decoration for the wall of the shop, but bamboo was on the march and I had work to do.
When you have a sharp blade and a good rhythm, a sling blade is much faster than a visionary or even a gasoline powered tool, and I was making good progress. I had cleared all the way back to the border of the established grove when I overshot a sprout and the blade cut clean through to a full stop against a mature cane. When I drew back the tool, there was a pretzel on the end of the handle.
My vintage sling blade would have embedded itself in the mature cane, given my arm a hard shake and cost me about 10 minutes of filing to regain its sharpness. The new tool behaved quite differently. The blade was missing a couple of teeth and the bracket which holds the blade was severely bent. The first thing that occurred to me was, I must be a lot stronger than I was 10-20 years ago when I was chopping down young privet with my old faithful. As much as that idea appealed to me, I reluctantly put it aside.
Next I considered that maybe, with all the climate change, mutating viruses and freakish weather, bamboo is a lot tougher than it used to be, but chopping it down with a bush hook feels about the same as always.
Finally it hit me. With all the visionary advances in technology, business, government and society, my sling blade was behaving exactly like it was designed to behave. The pretzel wasn’t a flaw – it was a feature. Some smart engineer had designed my blade with a structural safety feature – a crumple zone, like a modern plastic and aluminium automobile. The blade was just doing it’s job and protecting me from myself, just like visionary technology, business, government and society is supposed to do. It is an exciting time to be alive.
Nevertheless, I think with a new blade and a bit of welding I can resurrect my old sling blade, despite the hazards of filing and the risk of getting my arm shaken. Bamboo is still on the march, and time is of the essence. I admit it. I’m somewhat of an anachronism myself. Only the visionaries can lead us over the cliff of prosperity into the inviting gorge of safety, equity and social justice for all. I’ll just stay out of the way here on the mountain with my old tools.