The Hole in Our Yard

At Home In Nh July2023Recently, my eight-year-old daughter decided she wanted to dig a hole in our backyard. Believe it or not, this actually seemed reasonable to me and quite in her character.

We’ve raised her to be close to the dirt, to not be afraid of black fingernails, to be curious. That her curiosity has led her to an appreciation of the soil is also not surprising given her mother’s miraculous green thumb. Put the two of them together near a garden bed in the springtime, and they are guaranteed to return home filthy.

What did surprise me was, well, how big the hole is. I use present tense because, as of this writing, the hole is still there and continues to expand. The hole is so large, in fact, that she can now stand in it up to her waist. I’ll soon have to put orange traffic cones around it. By the way, before anyone gets all “Dig-Safe” on me, the hole is in a corner of the garden that used to be an in-ground pool, so no wires or pipes to hit!

Speaking of a pool, the hole is so large, Little Bean had another idea in her head.

“Daddy,” she said excitedly, “what if it rains and the hole fills up, then we’ll have our own pond in the backyard.”

Unless there’s an actual pond in one’s backyard, the idea of a pond suddenly appearing in there can be a terrifying thought, but for her, that was a natural next step.

Exploring the waterways of our state has been another one of her passions, so she’s well used to the feel of sand and mud. She’s explored the tidal pools in Rye and Portsmouth. She’s made a hobby of swimming in every pond and lake presented to her. From Weirs Beach to Sunapee to Silver to Forest, find her some water and a bucket to collect shells and stones, and not much more is necessary.

Meanwhile, back at home, I watch from our sunroom as my daughter fills up a watering can, steps into the hole, and begins to pour the water over her feet into the dirt. I begin doing the logistical calculations in my head about how I’m going to get her into the tub later without leaving a trail of mud through the kitchen.

I also consider a quote from Walt Whitman:

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day
Or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

I wonder how long that connection with the natural world will become her. Will she carry these days, these memories of dirt in her hair, into next week? Next year? Will she be sitting in her own backyard someday watching her own kids in her own pond?

What will be part of her?

Later that evening, long after her muddy clothes are tossed in the wash and the streaks of dirt have circled the tub drain, I ask her what she’s discovered.

“What’s important about that hole?” I say. “How deep are you going to dig it?

She gives it a moment. “Well, we can’t dig through to the other side of the planet, right?”

“Correct,” I say. We research where we’d end up, though. Turns out, going straight through would put us in the Indian Ocean, just west of Australia. “Besides, the Earth’s core is something like ten thousand degrees, so we really don’t want to go that deep anyway.”

She nods. “Well, we did find a plastic toy and a coin. Oh! And grubs!”


“Lots of them. So many of them!”

Turns out, she scooped the grubs out and spread them around the yard, near the bird bath, alongside some of the flowery bushes. Why? Because she wanted to leave a treat for the birds.

My eight-year-old spent three days digging a hole, scooping out tons of grubs, and fed the birds. That’s a strange thing to be proud of one’s daughter for, but I admit that I am. This feels like a worthy pursuit, like something maybe even Whitman himself would approve.

Because at least for now, for this summer, my daughter began to understand the dirt. And all it took was a shovel, a hole, and a whole lot of grubs. How simple.

Categories: At Home in NH