An Ode to Good Tools

My brother-in-law Marco was telling me the other day about his experience drilling through new tiles in his house.  He was having a hell of a time getting through them, and given how much he and his girlfriend had spent on remodeling the house, he wasn’t interested in cracking any of them.  He was there with his brother, who has his own windows and doors installation business, and at one point his brother, in that older brother way, said to him, “Here, try this one.”  He handed Marco a diamond-tipped professional-grade drill bit, and from then on, it was like making holes in butter.  As Marco said, sometimes spending money on the right tools is the best thing you can do.  And he should know … he’s a mechanic.

Far too often I find myself trying to make do with the wrong tools.  Most of the time it is because I am too stingy to buy the proper wrench, or level, or whatever for a simple job around the home that I expect to never have to do again.  Some of the time it is because I just have to make do with the materials on hand.  All of the time it is a habit picked up from watching my own father try every possible method that was already in stock in the garage before breaking down and going to the hardware store.  Often the results are passable … once in a while they are even excellent.

For three seasons now I have been fighting a battle like Sisyphus up and down the hills of our olive grove.  Among the many things that I have not done right with the grove is that I have never cleared the land properly.  You should give it a very thorough brush-clearing and weed-whacking once in the Spring and once in the Fall just before harvest.  I have been giving it a mediocre trim once a year.  In part this was because of the distance … until moving to Levanto it was virtually impossible to do the job right as a commuter from Parma.

But in part it was the fault of my weed-whacker.  In its day, it was probably a decent piece of machinery, but when I inherited it from a neighbor who had sworn off any further trimming in his life, it was already coughing and gasping.  And poor thing, it was never meant for dealing with unruly olive groves.  But I put it through its drills, a forced march up and down the terraced land, dripping gasoline, burning oil, losing its bobbin, and choking on grass clippings since its air filter was long gone.  It suffered, but it did manage to do enough to supply us with our 10 gallons of private stock extra-virgin olive oil every year.

Now that we live here and have even more gardening to do, it was time to make a change.  The right tool can make all the difference.  So I went to the local agricultural supply store, and I am now the proud owner of a professional-grade Japanese weed-whacker that beats the hell out of grass, weeds, small bushes, vines, thorns, and anything else in its way.  It has an automatic line feeder, starts on the first pull, cuts a 14-inch swath, idles properly, and can throw an errant stone twenty feet if you are not careful.  It’s like moving up from a Yugo to a Ferrari.

And so my travails with the weeds and such on my olive grove have been lessened.  It should be pointed out, though, that no amount of effortless weed-whacking will make my olive oil any better.  For that, we still have to take gentle care of the wonderful, centenary trees.


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