This Spade is a Spade

I only say this because some spades, many of which I have used, are mere sticks with a hunk of brute metal loosely attached at one end. Loosely because you can feel the wiggle when you apply the slightest weight. Brute because there is no form, thought, or poetry in this working extension of one’s arm and hand.

I bought this Poacher’s Spade from the old Smith and Hawken (they are no longer in business) around 1988. Even then it was rather expensive, around $65, I think; but I believed gardening was both art and alchemy – creating gold (plants) from base metal (soil particles) with the highest forms and colors, and so worthy of a venerable tool. And this shovel has been venerable (that’s the only word I can think of to describe it), a constant companion for over 21 years, never far from my side. It is the perfect size for transplanting, with a long blade, dished like a scoop, the metal gently tapered at the tip. It has dug probably acres of quack grass and formed the perfect hole for a new azalea. Its “D” shaped wood handle is comfortable enough to lean on after a stint of digging and it extends down seamlessly to its metal attachment. It is of a piece. I have never felt the slightest movement in handle or blade, ever.

For its first portrait, I oiled it with linseed oil for the first time. It needed it a bit, after all these years, though the oil from my sweaty hands probably tided it over till now.  It was made by the old English company of Spear and Jackson, by hand. I believe they are still making garden tools the way they began making them in 1760. Not much later William Wordsworth wrote this poem about a spade, in 1804:

The very spade

     Composed while we were labouring together
     in his Pleasure-Ground.

  Spade! with which Wilkinson hath till'd his Lands,
  And shap'd these pleasant walks by Emont's side,
  Thou art a tool of honour in my hands;
  I press thee through the yielding soil with pride.

  Rare Master has it been thy lot to know;
  Long hast Thou serv'd a Man to reason true;
  Whose life combines the best of high and low,
  The toiling many and the resting few;

  Health, quiet, meekness, ardour, hope secure,
  And industry of body and of mind;
  And elegant enjoyments, that are pure
  As Nature is; too pure to be refined.

  Here often hast Thou heard the Poet sing
  In concord with his River murmuring by;
  Or in some silent field, while timid Spring
  Is yet uncheer'd by other minstrelsy.

  Who shall inherit Thee when Death hath laid
  Low in the darksome Cell thine own dear Lord?
  That Man will have a trophy, humble, Spade!
  More noble than the noblest Warrior's sword.             

  If he be One that feels, with skill to part
  False praise from true, or greater from the less,
  Thee will he welcome to his hand and heart,
  Thou monument of peaceful happiness!

  With Thee he will not dread a toilsome day,
  His powerful Servant, his inspiring Mate!
  And, when thou art past service, worn away,
  Thee a surviving soul shall consecrate.

  His thrift thy uselessness will never scorn;
  An _Heir-loom_ in his cottage wilt thou be:--
  High will he hang thee up, and will adorn
 His rustic chimney with the last of Thee!

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