Sunday, May 17, 2009

On Flame Throwers and Innocence

Spending 6 hours with a flame thrower should be every boys' dream. Such quality time could be spent vanquishing an imaginary and inhomogeneous blend of alien foes, movie villains and mean kids from school (maybe throw in a parent or two if you've been unfairly punished any time in the last week). An (arguably) healthy outlet for pre-angst angst and aggression, the flame thrower - usually manifested as an empty wrapping-paper tube - taught young boys that, while other weapons may be more practical, none would ever match the cathartic and purgative qualities of fire. It also taught - and even I won't argue the health angle here - that anything you didn't like or any problem you had could be burned right out of your life with no consequence but ash.

It's no wonder they don't give flame throwers to adults.

Yet strangely enough, I find that a chosen vocation of "gardening" has inexplicably (ok, maybe a little explicably) placed a real life flame thrower in my tool kit and at my disposal. It is not the backback-mounted hell-spigot I imagined as a child; it looks rather like a steel walking cane and runs on those little propane tanks you use for camping stoves. Its effective kill-range is about 6 inches, not 30 yards, and its raison d'etre is to vanquish not hordes of attacking enemies and pre-pubescent psychological idiosyncracies but rather all enemies tenacious enough to germinate and grow in the cracks of sidewalks and patios.
It is, in other words, a weed-burner (but that's just between you and me; if anyone else asks, it's a flame thrower). So you might imagine, correctly so, that 6 hours of wielding this device at dandelions would not achieve quite the same catharsis and joy as those childhood campaigns-of-fire. Granted, it is still kind of cool to stand and rain flame down upon these weeds which would in other circumstances bring me to my knees with one of any number of inadequate digging/scraping tools as my only defense. And if I really need to work through some aggression issues, I can perform some mental gymnastics through which I let dandelions become the face of my sundry problems and then symbolically burn those problems. But even this only works for about half an hour before my attantion wanders and I'm just weeding again. I can even hold pleasant, inane conversations with neighbors and passers-by while operating the torch.
That's when it hits me: have I become so jaded that flame throwers are no longer badass? What else will this profession steal from me? What other childhood-subverting tools will appear in the gardener's tool kit to rob our imaginations of their most powerful weapons? Fertilizer hand-grenades? Stealth bomber crop-dusters? Lightsaber pruning saws? I'll not allow it.
It's up to us to reclaim our (somewhat violent, come to think of it) innocence. The next time you reach for a tool, look for its inner badassness. Fend off an alien-vampire with nothing but your Felcos; tame a John Deere velociraptor and ride it around with an extendable pruning saw as your lance; come on people, those fancy Japanese pruning and weeding tools are just asking to be part of a ninja's arsenal (you are a ninja, aren't you!?).
And for God's sake, the next time you're using a weed-burner, remember: it's not a weed-burner, it's a flame thrower!


  1. And in the fall you can still hide from your enemies in (or behind) the tons of leaves that will be available to pile up. Stealth will be required as the enemy lawn bags eat away at the leaves trying to find your sanctuary.

  2. I think it's a guy thing you've got going there. I channel my inner Miss Marple by pouring boiling water from a tea kettle on the weeds in the gravel.

  3. Become a contractor so you can start using a backhoe - all your transformer/monster truck rally fantasies will be rekindled. If one is left parked at one of my job sites, one of the crew will immediately offer to fire up the ignition and drive it out of my way. General disappointment ensures when I explain it's not actually in my way.

  4. I'm combining all these things in my head to produce a baffling but awesome mental image of Miss Marple driving a monster truck backhoe in the battle against enemy lawn bags.

  5. Hey Maranta, just tagged you in the Seven Things/ MeMe meme going around. No worries if you don't want to participate, but I gave props to ya on my site. Cheers!