I follow a ritual whenever I go out: I pat my pockets. One pat for my wallet, one for my keys, and my right pants pocket for my Swiss Army knife. I couldn’t leave the cottage without it because there’s often a rope to cut or a screw to tighten when you are far from the shed. It’s portable, uncomplicated, and multi-purpose, an ideal cottage tool. Indeed, there are probably more Swiss Army knives at cottages than there are in the Swiss Army.
We have been through so much together, my knife and I. Hand and handle. With it, I have carved ducks (wooden) and steaks (beef). Cleaned fingernails, spread butter, pried off bottle caps, and whittled walking sticks. I have screwed with the screwdrivers, cut with the scissors, and tweezed with the tweezers. And with the magnifying glass I have tried—without success—to light a fire in wood chips.
I have even used the reamer—although only to punch that extra hole in my belt. (I should never have eaten that fourth cheeseburger.) And yes, the corkscrew has proved itself at our cottage when guests bring real wine. (We run more to screw-top bottles and beer. Corkscrews don’t abound.) Swiss Army knives can have as many as 31 features, but mine is in the middle, with 11. It’s a close relative to the original knife, first produced in 1891. Eleven are enough for me—although a saw would be nice—but I don’t really need the hook disgorger, the wire cutter, or the ballpoint pen, which are some of the attachments on the SwissChamp, the biggest model. Nor do I need the model with the built-in watch—not at the cottage. My knife is not utterly perfect; in our quarter-century relationship, I have lost toothpick and tweezers (replacements cost $1 and $2) any number of times. I have broken the scissors. I have sharpened the blade so often it looks like an eagle’s beak.
But the blade will endure for years, and that’s just as well, for we have ducks to carve and sticks to whittle, my knife and I, in the cottage days to come.
This essay by Paul Rush was originally published in the April/May 1998 issue of Cottage Life.