By Scotty Bowman, Field Supervisor
Some people call it a sling blade. I call it a swing blade, while others call it a grass whip. What it is as quoted from Ames True Temper site:
The True Temper deluxe weed cutter offers a cost-effective way of clearing tall grass and other vegetation in overgrown areas. Its double-edge action provides increased efficiency by cutting on both the forward and return strokes. This is an ideal tool to clear ditches, forests, and fields.
Double-edged serrated blade
30 inch long North American Hardwood handle
Tempered steel braces for strength and durability
Eyehole for easy hanging and storage
After lugging on my pack, I take the tool into my hand. The blade is freshly sharpened. I have roughly seven miles of brushing to do over the next 3 days. I give it a couple of preemptive swings to feel the weight and balance of this tool that is going to become an extension of my body as I move along the Appalachian Trail. The sun is out; it is in the upper 70’s with a slight breeze. It is the kind of sitting on the porch day with a good book and glass of lemonade. My lemonade will be orange Gatorade. My book is Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. My porch will be whichever rock outcropping overlooking Watauga Lake on which I decide to rest and spend a quiet evening.
I move down the trail, traveling South toward my destination of first Pack Saddle Gap for one night, and then on to Vandeventer Shelter for another night. As I move along I swing the swing blade on the uphill side of the trail cutting out the vegetation growing into the trail. Moving slowly and sideways up the trail I swing the tool in a long, high arch with my right hand, trading off with my left. Listening to the sound of the blade as it swings down through the air, cuts through the vegetation, and then swings back up through the air, rinse and repeat. Sweat begins to flow from almost every pore on my body. I don’t really have to concentrate too hard on what I am doing as every part of my musculoskeletal and nervous systems working in rhythm. My body knows what needs to be done utilizing visual cues and a sense of feel. So my mind travels a trail of its own; a trail of thoughts that meander all over the place.
My mind retraces the path of memories (swing, cut, swing) of when I became involved in this work, Wilderness stewardship. The decision to leave the foodservice industry and the decision to go back to school and the happenstance meeting of one Bill Hodge (swing, cut, swing). I had to do 20 hours of volunteer time with the USFS and on one of those days, we worked in the Sampson Mountain Wilderness doing maintenance on a 5-mile loop. This is the place where I used a crosscut saw for the time which became a defining moment in my life (swing, cut, swing).
“I do not imply that this philosophy of land was always clear to me. It is rather the end result of a life journey.” Draft foreword to A Sand County Almanac (1947/1987)