In the 23-minute satirical song “Alice’s Restaurant,” Arlo Guthrie makes mention of having to clean up a pile of trash with “implements of destruction.” It was a term I became instantly fond of because the line between productive work and wanton destruction can be particularly tenuous when hand tools are involved. I remember one tool that I spent a lot of time with that was emblematic of that fine line. It was a Corn Cutter. A hand implement that is a close cousin to a sickle, the Corn Cutter (or I have heard it referred to as a Corn Chopper or Corn Knife) is designed like a machete with the ergonomics of a harvesting tool. Designs vary across geographic regions, but the idea is a long blade at a slight angle or bend that compounds the force to exact a swift slice through thick foliage such as corn stalks.
I have no need for cutting down corn, but I always found it to be a particularly good tool for fighting back weeds and other prolific interlopers. So, last summer I decided the Pokeweeds on my compost pile needed their come’upins. I went in search of a Corn Cutter.
This turned out to be an amazingly difficult task. My search leads me to the local hardware store. Strike one. So off to Solenberger’s, I go. Negative. It seemed hardware stores buy their wares from the same sources and carry the same standard set of offerings when it comes to garden tools. So thinking surely I had come at this from the wrong angle, I headed to Tractor Supply. This, I thought, would surely be the end of my journey. Imagine my surprise when I find an extremely impoverished section of hand garden tools there as well. I think to myself, “I must be missing something,” so I seek the assistance of an employee. Finding a pair behind a counter, I proceed to ask for a Corn Cutter.
“A Corn Cutter. It’s like a sickle for cutting weeds by hand.”
“Oh, we don’t have anything like that.”
Hmmm. I am thoroughly confounded at this point. Has the world become so dependent on weed eaters that a simple hand implement like a Corn Cutter is no longer available?
Defeated in my search, I dispatched the Pokeweeds with a shovel and spent that evening looking online for my tool of choice. It turns out there are many fine tools still available for a price and a delivery fee. However, with my problem du jour dealt with, I lost my head of steam and never ended up ordering the item.
Fast forward to March 2014. I return to Tractor Supply in search of dried blood to fertilize my garden. No dried blood. I am beginning to see a pattern…
As I’m kicking around dismayed, working my way out of the store, what do I find? A Corn Knife. Ah ha! Success seems to be on a one year lag. Perhaps there were others looking for the same thing and demand reached a tipping point. Maybe next year I’ll find dried blood but in the meantime, it seems elbow grease is making a comeback.