Cue happy music: It’s not what you think, though it is kind of odd.
No, I’m not a psychotic Japanese killer, a cook without a drinking problem, or even a mildly intimidating person. My thing with knives is entirely innocent, if a little odd (but I’ve admitted that already). But here I am offering analysis before even the most basic description of what happens with me and knives.
In 2009, I wrote about my grandfather’s pocketknife, how I hid it at an airport to avoid losing it and found it a week later. I still think of that as something of a miracle -- a low probability roll of the dice, adding up to 13 or coming to rest on edge.
You might say I was lucky, end of story. However, that’s not the case. While I have some Irish blood, luck has never been my strength. A hundred drawings, raffle tickets, write in contests, and never a single win. Not ever. Not-even-when-I-was-a-kid-at-my-own-birthday-party kind of thing. Not lucky.
Once I received a letter saying I had won a Cordless Reciprocating Saw. In a rare moment of hope, I had tossed a business card in a Milwaukee booth fishbowl at a tradeshow two weeks before. Joyous to have broken my string of eternal losses, every day I waited by the mailbox like Charlie Brown. But three months later, the Cordless Reciprocating Saw had not arrived, and I abandoned the mailbox watching with my luckless state was confirmed.
So no, I was not “lucky” to have gotten my Grandfather’s knife back. I don’t know from luck. The cause is something else--Odd, as we’ve already discussed. Some kind of cosmic affinity with knives, I figured.
To the story at hand: a brilliant Fall day not too long ago, I took our dogs Jenny and Jiggles for a walk in the woods next to our house. Jenny needs exercise because she is young and like a coiled spring: without exercise she will chew through the carpet and flooring in a matter of hours. Jiggles is old and getting fat and needs the exercise to stay fit.
At walk time, Jenny bounces at the door, trying to work the handle with her paws. Jiggles lies down on her back and hopes for a tummy rub. I put leashes on both. Jenny drags me out the door and I drag Jiggles, often enough still on her back for the first ten feet or so, still waiting for the tummy rub. And into the woods we go.
The knife—yes, the knife. The knife on this occasion is not my Grandfather’s pocket knife, but a very small knife with an elk horn tipped handle and a 2 in. blade made from a mill file--perfect for odd jobs around the shop from opening boxes to cutting a rag up or marking a board--and I wear it in a holster on my belt. It was a gift from a good friend who moved away. He’d been a great help in the shop over the years, so I look at the little knife as his way of still remaining useful around the shop.
The knife is a pain in one regard. While waiting in line at CVS with an armful of vitamins, notebook paper and chips, the cashier will see it on my belt and will give a look as if she’s being robbed. So I try to leave it in the car when I run errands outside of lumber yards and other knife-friendly environments.
So into the woods with the dogs and my knife: Jenny pulling me forward excited over every smell, every leaf, every acorn, every insect, sticking her nose in it all at a speed that makes thought impossible and strains the wrist. Behind is Jiggles, coming along morosely at first, but then getting into the spirit of things and beginning to keep up with Jenny sniff for sniff. After a while, I get in the mood and run with them, jogging up and down the forest paths, crunching along through the layer of leaves, wondering how many new aches and pains it’s possible to have in my knees, back, shoulders and neck and if running is helping them or making them worse.
We run along, run around and finally walk back home all exhausted, two with a few thousand new smells in memory, and one of us raring to go back again. Jenny jumps to bite her leash as the start to a tug of war, but after a good mile of walking and running I just put the dogs back in the house and head to the shop.
That’s when I reach down and find my knife is gone (the plot complication at last!). A few seconds of wondering where I put it yielded the answer: as I ran along with the dogs, the knife must have dropped out, somewhere on the miles of paths through the woods.
“Knife lost,” I said to myself with a shrug. Then right afterwards I realize that the knife can’t be lost without a fight. It was a gift. I like it. I have to at least try to find it.
A waste of time, looking for that knife along a mile of forest path with deep leaves, grasses and ferns covering every step. Maybe you’d find it with a metal detector, logic says, but otherwise it’s the proverbial needle in a haystack. Maybe if I looked for it barefoot….
But I couldn’t not look for it. Never Leave a Man Behind. Respect Your Tools. Eat Local. Look for Knifes You Drop in the Woods. It’s just one of life’s rules that if not obeyed will cause difficulty looking in the mirror on the morning. You just left it out there to rust?
“If you had dropped the damn knife off the Staten Island ferry, would I jump off and swim after it?” you might ask, pretending to be my mother. And I won’t answer that question.
So I closed the door to my shop and began the futile task of searching for my knife on miles of forest path, running the internal monologue:
“How much time are you going to waste looking for the damn thing?”
“If someone met you here, how would you explain what you were doing?”
“Please let me find the darn thing, just by miracle chance, just this once. Please.”
I walk along, looking at the top of the leaves, grass and ferns, realizing even if it was right there, under my nose, I probably couldn’t see it. I kick the leaves, push the ferns away. No knife. Of course not.
So I look where the grass is lowest, where there are no ferns, where I can sort of see the dried leaves and the occasional rock or patch of bare soil. That feels somehow more satisfying, to see a place where, if the knife had fallen there, I could see it. But it’s not in any of those places.
After a few minutes of this, I figure I’ve looked enough to escape blame for not trying, but not so long enough I’d call myself an idiot for spending hours looking to find the impossible to find.
Then a little white glint catches my eye. I push away the grasses to find a mushroom. That would have been impossibly lucky to have found it that easily. So I get up and move on.
Modern science dispelled all our superstitions by showing us the real, non-magical reasons behind so many of our fears and traditional explanations of how the world works. There is no god standing in the clouds throwing thunderbolts at our heads in a storm: it’s electricity. There is no witch who lives down the road casting spells to make my hair fall out: it’s the result of changing levels of hormones in my aging body. Asking the heavenly father to give me my knife back will not get me my knife back: the knife is somewhere in the woods and only a huge and thorough search with a metal detector over several days will create the statistical chances necessary to retrieve it.
Then another white glint catches my eye, and it doesn’t look mushroom shaped. I look a little closer, push the grass away and sure enough it’s the white elk antler handle of the knife sticking up, blade buried in the ground. I found it.
I start laughing out loud, alone and yet not feeling alone. What principle, what coincidence, what chance, what guidance took my eye to the handle just then and there? Is the universe now out of balance, now that something nearly impossible and outside of all chance and probability has occurred? If I don’t tell anybody, would it not count and keep the universe in balance? Will I get home to find some equal bad luck has occurred to balance out this good fortune? Will I find a tree fallen over in my lower yard that cartwheels up the slope to smash my roof in? At this point I don’t doubt it for a minute, for that would deny the fact I just walked into a large woods and found my tiny knife in about 5 minutes.
On the way home I may well have skipped a few steps, noticed how beautiful the woods is once or twice and hummed a tune, but my recollection is hazy. Two knives that I considered lost and gone have both come back against all odds. Indeed there is something peculiar about my relationship with knifes that is not true for any other object. I’ve lost keys, wallets, hats and sweaters in perfectly plausible locations with perfectly honest people nearby, but never recovered any of them. I do not have a special relationship with these objects. But knives seem to be a different matter. I can't seem to lose them no matter how hard I try. Do I thank the random aspects of universal probability or put my faith in muttered imprecations? And why knives? Should I worry what this might say about me? Or should I be grateful this inseparable problem isn’t with something else such as compost, ex-girlfriends or police records?
Ending with questions is bad form, I know. You demand answers. So do I. But I'm not going to veer into sentimental theories on the basis that these knives meant something to me. That would be too vapid. Perhaps these knives and I have a purpose together, inseparable until destiny is fulfilled (cue Lord of he RIngs music)....
Or maybe I am just damn lucky and don't know it. Yep, that's probably it.