One of the aspects that distinguishes humans from other animals is our widespread use of tools. Our lives are filled with them, and they facilitate our activities, enabling us to do our jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible. I have a job which uses its own particular set of tools, most of which relate to cutting something specific, but would be near useless for another task. The tool itself prescribes the exact method of how a task can be done by how it will be used.
For the past few weeks, I have been working in our small hazel coppice. The straight stems of hazel are ideal for plant stakes, so once all of the stems were cut I set about preparing them. The ideal tool for this task was my ‘bill hook’. As I worked through the pile of branches I’d created I marvelled at how beautifully efficient and well-designed this tool was, the curved blade skimming down the stem, deftly removing all the small side branches.
I remembered how it was given to me by a friend several years ago. We had worked together before he moved to Australia with his girlfriend. We hadn’t been in contact since then, but using the tool he’d given me invoked many memories of him. The way it made short work of the branches reminded me of his impressive work ethic and dedication and I felt that I should embody that same attitude as I worked with the gift he had given me.
I was struck by the idea that some small residue of ourselves can be left in these objects. I wondered if the way I worked was influenced not only by my memories of my friend, but also possibly by the tool itself and the memory it held of everyone who had ever worked with it; how the leather handle had taken the form of the hands of all its previous users and how every nick and scrape along the blade told a tale of its past.
I like to think that as I get older I will be able to bequeath some of my tools to my friends, colleagues and children. I hope as they use them they remember me, and think about how I might have set about the task, and through them, and my tools, I may achieve some peculiar form of immortality.