Once upon a time I lived back-to-the-land. Just a few years. When the kids were still young, my family and I made the classic move to the country. Old farmhouse, barn, septic bed, dug well, big skies. In the garden, I heard the call of the land. It said, John, you buffoon, the land doesn’t talk. It caught me by surprise how much I loved it out there. I learned the essential back-to-the-land skills: gardening, home-brewing, canning, small-engine repair. I grew fond of simple, old-fashioned tools: the hand shovel for ploughing the garden, the gold-tined pitchfork for turning my immense open compost pile, the smooth-handled hatchet for clearing roots, the wrecking hammer for tearing down an old shed, and the scythe for the never-ending battle with weeds. The kids grew up. The north wind blew right through the old farm house. There came a time to leave.
Still I carry a back-to-the-land fascination in my pocket. Now and again, something prompts it out, like Dave Bonta’s book of poetry, Odes to Tools. Dave denies his handiness, but knows his way with poetry. The socket wrench handles torque and clicks against the gearwheel’s teeth. The saw too has teeth, as many as a school of piranhas, thus it copes. The claw hammer has a pair of legs strong enough between them to birth nails. Emissaries from a country that no longer exists, he says of the scythe. I picked up the scythe when my gas-powered, industrial weed-eater with bush blade finally surpassed my small-engine repair skills. Silent tools have their own manner of speaking. Thanks Dave for finding the words.
These days I live neck-deep in technology. It serves its purposes. Most computers are multipurpose devices, designed to do everything, often at cross-purposes. I find myself fascinated by single-purpose gadgets: a dashboard mounted GPS, a counter-top internet radio, an ereader. My hand tools presented as single-purpose devices, like the saw, as Dave says, that walks the straight and narrow, restricted to harsh amens of service. Of course, hand tools were never single-purpose, the hatchet cleared not only roots but chicken heads too. Even so, single-purpose tools allow their handler to focus attention for arduous work, to step through complexities. A design lesson there.
You can purchase his book online, or send him a cheque for a signed copy. In the manner of the old country you can barter with Dave for copy. Also be sure to read Dave’s blog, Via Negativa, a remarkable compilation of poetry, video-poetry, podcasts, and philosophy. I’ve been an avid reader for three years.