Step One

I have been away, and now I am at a loss of what to do.  I dig a hole in the backyard and discover that it is hard work.  I've known this to be true, but have forgotten. How long has it been since I have dug a hole this big?  It is not a big hole.  The directions say the hole must be 10 inches wide and 24 inches deep.  That is not a big hole until one is digging the hole in the sun on a Tuesday afternoon. I go about it wrong from the start.  I get a shovel. I envision that I will put the shovel to the earth, press my foot onto the shoulder of the blade, and the blade will penetrate the dirt, and I will lean on the handle, and a shovelful of dark earth will pop from the ground.  I will do this several times in order to get a hole deep enough.  This is what I think will happen.  But when I put my foot on the shoulder of the blade and press my weight onto it, the blade remains without penetrating any soil at all.  The earth does not simply give in to my whims. I must be using the wrong tool.  But what is the right one?  Probably something noisy and smokey and gas guzzling.  Instead, I find a children's trowel in the garage.  I try a similar technique as with the shovel, but with similar results, I resort to stabbing.  I stab and scoop and break into a heavy sweat.  After a long time I measure the hole.  Wide as my hand and half as deep.  I stab and scoop and stab and scoop.  How fundamental to being human, this digging at the earth, and yet how strangely unaccustomed I am.  I've heard stories that Seymour Cray, inventor of the supercomputer, dug for years, a giant hole (or was it a tunnel?) in his backyard for no apparent reason.  I stab and scoop.  I am nervous that something like an ear might emerge.  Though we are wildly successful at inhabiting the surface of the earth, floating above it, or descending down into it are acts of bravery. All those incredible holes we humans dig: subways and foundations for skyscrapers and mines and tunnels to freedom.  How many billions of graves?


  1. Try a pitchfork.
    Not noisy
    Not smoky
    Not gas guzzling.

  2. Mom, I know you love your pitchfork, so I hate to tell you this, but they aren't very good at digging holes.

  3. I love your telling of stories, Joanna--especially of simple, daily moments. BTW, I typically shove the plant in whatever size hole I'm able to dig, regardless of what's recommended. Not sure that's the most skillful action, but it's how I've made peace with the gardening process.