The key to weed whacking is to become one with the weed whacker. This feels rather like drinking seventeen espressos and then clamping both fists onto an electric fence. But let’s start at the beginning: before you can become one with the death-defying ride that is the whacker, you must convince it to start.
Every weed eater is essentially different; it is my educated suspicion that even whackers of the same make and model emerge from the factory as ornery old men, uncooperative, rusty and in need of a great deal of special attention. But by the time these stickbugs make their way into your care, they are especially old, especially dirty and especially hard to love.
In the morning you steel yourself, heft up the garage door and stare down the ugly little row of weed whackers. Part of the ritual is the pre-whacking dodder: find some matching garden gloves, look for some eye protection amid the jumble of hammers and nails on the workbench, scrounge up some earplugs from God-knows-where. When it can be avoided no longer, you have no choice but to turn to the three little demons on the floor. Nobody wants to weed whack. We all have weed whacking thrust upon us.
Weed whackers are essentially long poles with death at each end. At the bottom is the grass-guard, which may protect your shins from grass but does nothing against pebbles, pinecones and glacier-sized boulders. Beneath the grass-guard is the spinning green string of doom: whirling at warp speed, the plastic-coated string becomes a lethal weapon capable of felling anything in its way: weeds, saplings, children under the age of four. At the top, the part closest to your body, is the motor. It would be terrifying enough to have that much potential for combustion only inches from your torso, but the fractures in the plastic casing and the hellish temperatures of the little blob itself make it that much worse.
The first step, of course, is to check the fuel tank, at the top of the stick, and, should it be low, to identify the proper type of fuel for his needs. Some weed whackers take pure oil; some take pure gas; some take a mix of the two. Woe betide she who uses the wrong liquid, and good luck identifying the proper cocktail. The stakes are high, and the house frequently wins.
Once the tank is full, the next step is to pump the bugger for information. Or, more accurately, to pump the fuel-gauge button six to ten times (depending on the grumpiness of the machine on that particular day), move the power switch to whatever position it wasn’t already occupying (or toggle it back and forth until your anxiety settles, as the case may be) and then begin the ceremonial chain-yanking. Be warned, all ye who chain-yank here: this part is stressful. Your time is limited: if you don’t start the machine quickly enough, you must return to the proverbial first square of button-pushing and switch-toggling. Yank for all you’re worth! Yank your elbow all the way back to your ear!
Let’s say you do it. Let’s say you succeed in picking the right fuel, funneling it into the tank, pushing the button enough times, putting the switch in the right place and yanking the chain hard enough in the limited amount of time offered. Let’s say you do all that. Wouldn’t you think you’d be ready for a rest? No, dear one. The work has just begun.
You’re holding a monster now. It’s growling in your hands, revving, eager to devour all the foliage it can. It’s powerful, and it doesn’t want to wait for you. So you heft it in your palms (which may already be sweating) and set it down to grass level.
You move in slow arcs, skimming the ground, your body stiffened against the clippings that fly in all directions. Sometimes your beast of a weed whacker sends flowers shooting yards away, and you harden your heart to the cruelty of the machine in your hands. Weed whacking is not for the faint of heart; few flora escape alive. You, too, are in danger of being taken by the machine.
Your hands are the first to go. You realize after ten minutes, twenty, that you can no longer uncurl them from the weed eater’s stem. This scares you. Could you stop if you really had to? Has the machine taken over control? Even as you contemplate the loss of your digits, your arms and shoulders are sucked in as well. They vibrate violently. You can feel your tendons stretch, maybe even feel your bones throb as the powerful motor destroys the foliage at your feet. The arms you thought were so strong, the clever phalanges that make you human, they have become part of the monotonous hunger of your weed whacker.
Finally you can take it no longer. It’s one throb too many. You throw the machine to the ground; it chugs along there as you shake out your upper body. The throbbing remains like a specter inside you. Struggling for breath, struggling to evict the ghostly vibrations from under your skin, you wonder if pushing back the wilderness is so very valuable a goal that you must become the machine.