There is something wonderful about taking a shovel and digging a hole, the start of some project, or, in my case, the continuation of a very drawn out project. This week I have been digging the future wetland filter for our future backyard pond. The pond is a hole I started digging in my preteen years, enlisting the aid of my cousin and some worker bees from my sister’s class early on one summer. As my dad originally envisioned it, the shallow pond would be lined with the circular hard plastic horse trough that served as my childhood pool, but I had bigger and, shall we say, deeper aspirations. After clearing it with the city, my hole carved and pic-axed out of the hard clay dirt soon outgrew the old blue pool. It grew much slower over the years as a good spot to work out frustrations or difficult problems, but not really taking shape until another growth spurt when I came back home to finish writing my master’s thesis. Together, Bandit and I dug that hole.
I can see why digging holes was Bandit’s favorite past time, he was by far the most diligent worker to ever toss dirt in that backyard. There is something satisfying about physical exertion, moving earth, and reshaping a piece of land. In Bandit’s case I imagine the new smells, discoveries, and opportunities to hide a bone fueled each pawful of dirt. For me, it is like playing a puzzle game while I try to work out my next sentence– a place to think things through even if it is just in the back of my mine. If you are having writer’s block, may I humbly suggest some mild manual labor? I’ve heard it said that the majority of writing is thinking and as I grow older, I find myself believing that to be true. Even now, to write this next sentence, I find myself looking off over my laptop as though I am scanning the room for my next word. With each shovel full of dirt, I turn over a dozen possibilities– work that needs to be done. And sure, just like Bandit, I also find some sort of primal satisfaction in the smell of freshly churned earth, just like a fresh cut of grass. It is fun to daydream with my parents as we stand around the dirt hole, each day now taking more and more shape. Soon the digging will stop, we will lay down the liner, rock it in, and hope for some good snow melt to start us off.
Perhaps this week, I have just been missing my dog. Maybe with each new mound of dirt moved I am just mulling over the competing narratives on woman suffrage in Wyoming and trying to find where my voice fits in the fray or digging through the Wyoming law thinking over our state seal. Or, perhaps, I need the work–the sound of the shovel, the bounce through its handle when I strike a rock, just like the ache in my legs reverberating for a few days after hopping in and out of a four foot deep hole. In truth, it is all of those things and everything in-between and in the future where I can see myself, legs draped into water, with a cool drink in my hand and a sentence in the back of my mind that I am trying to untangle.