On Sunday afternoon, while the sun turned my arms a sweet shade of spring pink, I crawled around on the deck nailing nails. Not new ones. Old ones. The original nails that turned two-by-fours and four-by-fours and whatevers-by-whatevers into the structure on which I now grow herbs and watch hummingbirds and read books and, once every 28 days, walk outside to make sure the moon is compass-drawn round.
I was nailing the old nails because by some process that probably has a name given it by a mechanical engineer, but which just reminds me of that plastic plug in the Thanksgiving turkey that pops up when the temperature inside is just right, the nails over time start rising from their flush position in the wood to a perpendicular stance that, ignored, causes great pain in the bottom of a bare foot. I was nailing the old nails because things need to be maintained. I was nailing the old nails because nobody else was going to.
So there I was, as I said, crawling around hammering in what I hoped was a logical sequence so that I wouldn’t miss any of the recalcitrant nails, listening to the new wind chime hanging from the eaves outside the bedroom door and thinking about the quote attributed to Mark Twain, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
The hammer with which I was clobbering the pop-up nails is not the only tool I have. I have screwdrivers — flathead and Phillips. I have pliers, a hand saw, a level, a retractable tape measure and a cordless drill. I have duct tape, electrical tape and blue painter’s tape. In the bottom of my tool box are any number of small plastic canisters containing screws and nuts and bolts of varying sizes. If the job had called for something else, then, I would most likely have been prepared.
But because the short and spiky pieces of metal protruding up through the floor of my deck were, in fact, nails and not just something that looked like nails, a hammer was what I needed. It’s just that after about 10 minutes I realized that the hammer — which is perfectly suited to tapping short, thin picture-hanging nails into Sheetrock — might not be up to the task of pounding back into the deck what was by then beginning to look like railroad spikes.
And it might have been about that time that I remembered that not long before someone who shall remain nameless — but who has a Y chromosome — described mine as "not much of a hammer." At which point, said nameless Y-chromosome-carrying human produced a much larger version of a hammer and proceeded to prove his point by ripping apart, in less than a minute, an old wooden packing crate that I wanted to use to build something else.
I probably did need a bigger hammer. But I didn’t have a bigger hammer. And if I went to borrow a bigger hammer, chances were that there would be an offer to do the nailing for me. And I wanted to do it myself.
I can be stubborn.
So I kept at it. One, two, three, sometimes four blows to send one nail back down through a channel that had already been cut. Four swings to level a nail that was offering little or no resistance. Four licks to accomplish what could have been done with one. I switched from my right hand to my left and back again. I got tired.
I can be foolish, too.
Not every challenge can be met with perfect efficiency. Sometimes you have to use a tailgate as a step-ladder, tack up a hem with masking tape, prop the door with a brick. Sometimes you have to make do. But sometimes, maybe even most of the time, you don’t.
I hit the last lick, stood up and looked around at the once again barefoot-safe deck. I was glad to be finished, glad to have done it all myself and glad to know that before it needed to be done again I was going to have a bigger hammer.