Archived Opinion

Weedeaters teach lesson in overkill

Just a few minutes into weedeating and I feel lobotomized. Perhaps the heady roar of the little engine that can obliterates my ability to discern what’s being whacked until I’m in full, lethal motion. Maybe it’s the power of wielding a mechanized cutting machine mixed with the angst of an uptight, obsessive personality that does me in.

Be that as it may, once launched with a weedeater in my hands, I sense a strong internal drive to cut everything the same height — somehow blind to the carnage I’m wreaking in my lust for a flawless, perfect, three-inch tall green expanse.

In a different life, I might have been an excellent builder of golf courses. Though in this life, I dislike golf and golf courses (environmentally poisonous cesspools built so a few people can tap little balls into holes using sticks). And I would add a dislike for those who play golf, but that’s not actually true. I don’t dislike people who play golf. But I don’t comprehend the fascination, and I don’t much care for those I inwardly suspect of ulterior motives for playing golf: the modern Silas Laphams of the world and their upwardly mobile climb to the top. (Though having advertised my snobbishness, I’m tempted to add qualifiers about how I know golf is a fun game (though I don’t really believe it’s fun), and how I’m sure people don’t really hit the golf course for networking reasons alone (though I know many, in fact, do just that)).

Whatever … I give up. I’m heading from this self-built sand trap back to safer ground: weedeating.

It seems I always destroy at least one irreplaceable and expensive flower, shrub or tree during a weedeating outing. This weekend, the sacrificial victim was a serviceberry tree. It’s a fact that our forests are filled with serviceberries. So, on first blush, the loss of one, tiny serviceberry doesn’t seem like much. But my friend, a few years ago, had carefully selected this tree from a nursery, ordered the serviceberry sapling and planted it. She had weeded and nurtured the serviceberry, openly admiring her excellent work mere days before I, with a single heedless pass of the weedeater, took said prized serviceberry from a height of three or so feet to a mere three or so inches.

I looked back, oops, too late to prevent the destruction, and there — stark evidence of my recklessness and need for perfection — was a tiny stump, the remnants of her beloved serviceberry tree.

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“Well, if you had to cut something down, I’d rather it be that than, say, the plum tree,” my friend said bravely, as if she were in the Strait of Messina choosing between Scylla and Charybdis.

A few years ago, I ordered eight very expensive tea plants from a nursery in Chapel Hill. I planted them. Within a week, I had chopped down two. Innumerable flowers have given way to my weedeating, and even a fair number of vegetable plants — each time I mow the paths in the garden, I take out a broccoli here, a row of carrot tops there.

I’ve long toyed with the possibility of using a scythe rather than a weedeater. My biggest fear isn’t the physical labor involved — a weedeater beats the hell out of you, anyway — it’s sharpening the blade. I’m very bad at sharpening anything. I have ruined many a fine knife by trying to “fix” it, dulling the blades beyond the repair of the most skilled professional knife sharpener. These days, I use a serrated knife that never requires sharpening, and I resolutely squelch desires for chef-quality kitchen equipment. I know I’d just be throwing away my money if I bought nice knives.

This might prove the case with a scythe, too. There is something deeply satisfying, however, about the thought of using this finely crafted tool instead of a machine. No motor, no need to string; more time to think, some protection I hope for the plants. Additionally, my inner peasant finds a certain rustic appeal to the possibility of looking like I stepped out of a Bruegel painting. And that’s a feeling I certainly never get when using a weedeater.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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