A knife-changing experience

Do you remember your first jackknife? I do mine — it was a souvenir beauty from Niagara Falls. It had a scene of the falls with a rainbow arching gracefully over the Maid of the Mist. My mother was brave enough to buy it for me on a trip to Canada when I was 9 years old and on my way to becoming an intrepid outdoorsman.

A wise person once said, “You do four things with your first knife. First, you whittled a stick. Second, you cut yourself. Third, you tried to sharpen it. And fourth, you lost it.” I did all four. But the good news is there were nearly two months between the first and the last.

The night I cut myself, my parents were out and left my sister to babysit me. I was whittling away when an evil spirit directed the blade away from the stick into the flesh between my thumb and index finger. The blood came pouring out, but what really scared me was the white stuff. I don’t know if it was fatty tissue or a tendon of some sort, but I thought I might be greeting the Grim Reaper sooner than expected. My older sister nearly fainted at the sight of blood but fortunately regained her composure long enough to call our neighbor, who assured me I was going to be fine and in fact didn’t even need stitches.

Much relieved, I moved to step three. I found my brother’s sharpening stone and did a great job of taking a dull souvenir knife and making it duller. Undeterred, I hurried on to a secret fourth step known to only the most serious knife aficionados — trying to kill something.

Legend has it that Daniel Boone killed a bear with his knife. I wasn’t quite as ambitious. There had been some wildlife tearing up my neighbor’s lawn. Was it a bear? Not on rural Long Island. A racoon? Not their type of meal. A skunk? Very possibly. After a little research I discovered the culprit — a mole.

I spent the remainder of the summer stalking the critter. I’d head over early in the morning, quietly sneaking up the slope where I’d seen the animal scurrying about. Then, one afternoon, after much stalking, I saw it. Trembling with excitement I took careful aim and threw the knife. It bounced off the ground, missing the mole completely. This went on multiple times a day, every day throughout the summer. But I was, if nothing else, patient and determined. Finally, after two weeks of this cat-and-mouse (or whack-a-mole) game, it was time for our family to take our annual vacation to Lower Saranac Lake.

Two weeks later I returned, wondering if the mole was still causing trouble. I saw the tell-tale signs of the beast — tunneling and molehills. (Fortunately, no one had made a mountain of them.)

Once again, I started stalking the brute. Each morning I restarted the ritual. It was a bit like the movie Groundhog Day (or maybe it should be Lawn Mole Day). Climb the fence to my neighbor’s yard, work my way through the short section of forest, slowly creep up the slope keeping a wary eye out for the tiny-eyed creature. I did this a half-dozen times a day and on at least one of them I’d see the mole running across the lawn. When I did I’d spring into action trying to send him (or her) to the Promised Land with my Niagara Falls scimitar. And each time I failed, as the knife never came anywhere close to its intended target.

At last I gave up all hope of ever ridding my neighbor’s lawn of the monster.

Then, on the day before school started, I made the trip one last time. I snuck up the slope, worked my way across the lawn, and started back down when out of the shadow of the hedge came the mole. I figured I’d finally kill my prey and get my trophy. I had visions of mounting its small head like a deer and nailing it on the wall above my bedroom dresser.

I opened the knife blade, cocked my arm, and let the Niagara dagger fly. The knife flew, end over end, headed straight towards the mole. Or so I thought, as it landed with a thud about a foot past it.

The summer was over, the mole was safe. Frustrated and disappointed, I ran over to retrieve my knife and as I did, I accidentally stepped on the mole, killing it instantly.

Immediately I felt regret — regret that it was dead, regret that I’d killed it, and regret that I’d even wanted to kill it in the first place.

Two weeks later I accomplished step four: I lost the knife. History fails to recall any of the details.


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