Wednesday, July 02, 2008

weed whacker

I did it, I finally bought a weed whacker. There’s a lot of lawn in the garden, despite our efforts to lay beds and plant things, there’s a lot of grass. We have a ‘gardener’, a very lovely 19 year old indigenous 7th day Adventist. But he works full time for a hotel an hours cycle ride away and we get him every other month when we heckle the hotel enough. It’s not a practical arrangement, and I’m very bad at heckling. The grass wasn’t quite as high as an elephant’s eye, but easily 5 times taller than any lurking fer-de-lance and it looked overwhelmingly messy. I’d been intending to buy a weed whacker for at least the last 2 months, it had become a bit of an issue.

Firstly there was the petrol or electric question. All of the men who cut grass for money have big heavy petrol powered machines. They look like samurais as they also wear heavy ground length leather aprons and a mesh mask covering their face. The whacker is supported by straps which adorn shoulders and wrap around waists. Cycling round a corner and being met by a grass cutter holding his still running (people do so like to waste petrol here) engine singing, surrounded by clouds of gas smoke and a green haze of slowly descending vegetative particles, his small form enlarged and given great authority by his ‘armor’, is to suddenly realize and give thanks that one lives in a peaceful country and this is not some warrior out of control with blood lust, but a local earning $14 for sweating several litres under his garb for a whole day’s work.

As I would be doing the ‘whacking’ I wouldn’t need such a big heavy –or expensive – machine. And as there would be no need to do the entire lawn in one day, I didn’t need so powerful a motor. Petrol powered gives more freedom: one isn’t limited by cord or the need for power outlets. But I found myself unable to buy a petrol machine, simply because of the petrol itself. I know this is hypocritical and I claim no superiority in being a bicycle owner: I miss driving, there are times when I wish I had a car. And I know that most of my food arrives here thanks to various petrol powered grain harvesters, delivery trucks, fork lift trucks, trains, ships and buses. And I know that the weed whacker itself would be made out of parts that themselves were possible because of the petrochemical industry. All this I knew and the argument went back and forth in my head when I could have been thinking other things. The clincher was that all electrical energy in Costa Rica comes from hydroelectric stations and this was easier for me to justify in my ignorance. Of course it then turned out that the electrical models were more expensive because of the power cords.

It really has taken me two months to finally come to the decision to buy a small electric model. I not only went back and forth between the two power sources, but also whether I should really own a whacker, whether it wouldn’t be better to hire or borrow one, or simply pay someone else to cut the grass. In the end convenience won out – as is so often the case. The power cord was more expensive than the machine. I have 40 metres of cord, which should I think be long enough, given there’s a house at either end of the garden. The cord came as just that and I bought plugs for either end. It’s been years since I’ve wired a plug, years since those university days where fuses were often blown and tinfoil kept whole apartments running. The copper wire was surprisingly thick and set me off into another mental spin: I’ve recently finished ‘Conversations with an Archdruid’ which follows the brilliant conservationist David Bower on three trips into the wilderness. The first trip was to a mountain he was defending against the opening of a copper mine. As I wired the plug images of pristine mountains and copper mines drifted in and out of my head. The fine wire bundled into stiff copper rope in my fingers had come a long way, and from where? What processes had it undergone to end up in the jungle of Costa Rica? The electricity here is very simple, cables and wires are in clear evidence hanging from trees, dangling from roofs, miles and miles and miles of it, all tucked inside black or white plastic. How much ore, how many mountains had become empty pits? The only point to such questions is to raise awareness of one’s impact upon the land. The wire is already here, the damage done so that I can have power in the middle of the garden. But I have direct control over my purchases: perhaps a petrol powered machine would have been a better choice. Perhaps paying someone else would have been more appropriate.
Nevertheless, all doubts cast aside, I can now cut the grass. And when the rain stops I shall.