The Fishing Knife
I was hiking the Knobstone Trail in southern Indiana. I’d been out a day or two. I was trying to prepare for a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. The air was hot and humid, and my sweat coated me in a salty shellac. I was thirty five pounds heavier than I am today as I stopped to rest at the top of a tall tree covered hill south of Elk Creek, a local fishing spot. I looked down and noticed right smack dab in the middle of the path a cheap little knife with a black plastic handle. I had already bought a buck knife, a pretty good one, for my long distance setup, but I found it to be a little heavy. I came to call the cheap little knife my “Fishing Knife” because I figured it was a good enough blade to cut fishing line. I never took it fishing though. It turned out to be a pretty good knife.
On the Appalachian Trail there is always that guy (usually a male) with a ridiculously big knife. Whether a case of some sort of Freudian compensation, or a poor reckoning of weight to self defense value, or even the Rambo film franchise‘s continuing contribution to American culture, some odd hiker is always inspired to carry a stupid and useless hunk of metal onto the trail. I won’t lie: I thought about being that guy! Most AT hikers who get anywhere carry something small, simple and lightweight. What makes a good trail knife? (People ask that question sometimes.) A good trail knife should be able to cut through cord, cheese, and pop tart wrappers. The guy with the small pen…whoops, I mean big knife; that guy will argue you need to saw wood and slaughter bears with a knife. I have never been in a knife fight on the Appalachian Trail, neither with a bear nor a human. I slaughtered a few dozen summer sausages though. Yeah, me and the Fishing Knife went places. I carried it Georgia to Maine in 2011, and on a few other shorter outings. It was a one inch blade.
I think of Viking lords and the knights in service to Carolingian kings with their exquisite ulfberht blades, dark age steel strong enough to shatter shields. I think of Excalibur. I think of samurai swords. I think of modern cavalry sabers. I think of the Ka-Bar knife. I think of butcher knives and the sacrificial knives of ancient cults. When I think of blades, I think of taking the augers, gathering a sense of the mysterious universe. Where did the ancients look for the mystery of things? In the entrails of rabbits and birds– they peered into what the animals and birds ate and tried to understand nature by examining it, even if their methodology was mostly superstition. The Fishing Knife was not a sacred knife, but maybe like Frosty’s hat, it had some magic in it. After all, it found me in Indiana.
After thousands of trail miles, I lost the Fishing Knife in the Grayson Highlands on a section hike in 2014. I was really bummed about it. But the Appalachian Trail provides its own legendary magic. The father of a family of four who shared a frozen spring night in a shelter lent me his knife in the morning. I told him about some of my adventures with the Fishing Knife and how I’d lost it. He let me keep his knife. I hope somebody found the Fishing Knife and it’s out on the trail and in the pocket of a happy hiker.
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