For years I was convinced that dry-fly fishermen were in the same nut league as amateur oboe players, that their sanity was suspended on a gossamer thread or tippet. My brother had a dry-fly friend who, as soon as it was warm enough each spring—and sometimes before it was warm enough—submerged his wife in a swimming pool and floated that year's crop of hand-tied beauties over her, in order to quiz her afterward on what she thought they looked like to a trout.
So for years I believed that the dry-fly fisherman was the ultimate in unhinged fanaticism. But now I am not so sure. An awareness has sunk in that I am a nut myself. I am a nut about axes. The things you chop with.
To me, axes are beautiful.
You don't weigh axes in fractions of ounces, or in any precise way. You heft them, and you learn to know a three-pound head from a 3�-pound head.
You don't buy them at fancy stores; you con people out of them when you find rusted, split-handled relics in their barns or garages. Or you pick them up for a dollar or two, the heads anyway, at tag sales.
I remember discovering two good but rusted and nicked ax heads at a tag sale at a farm and standing in the barn discussing them with the owner, who was wearing overalls—the kind you buy from a Sears catalogue, not Bloomingdale's. In one hand I held a really good-looking ax head only slightly rusted, slightly nicked, with graceful lines and a classic curve to the heavy back of the head opposite the blade edge. The tag on that one read $1. In my other hand I held a somewhat ugly broad-bladed ax head, pitted as well as rusted, but the tag on that one said $2.
"Why is this one one dollar," I asked, holding up the better-looking head, "and this old one two dollars?"
The man looked at me with disdain. "Because it's a better ax head," he said.
I felt diminished, of course. In time I learned why it was better. Today, derusted, sharpened, fitted with a 28-inch handle, the ugly $2 purchase has become my next to favorite ax.
I've spent more time than I like to admit cleaning up old ax heads with rust remover and steel wool or pot cleaners like Golden Fleece or Brillo or Curly Kate or whatever happened to be handy, and a lot more time with the ax heads in a vise, working out nicks and getting an even edge with a flat file.