Digging Dirt

I liked digging when I was young. It was not something I had to do, and my body didn’t mind so much. Everything from digging for red wigglers for bait to trying to dig a hole to China kept me busy.

We had 11,000 laying hens in seven houses behind our house. The water troughs drained constantly behind each house, making wet and very fertile dirt the worms loved. It was easy to get a coffee can full of great bream and catfish bait.

On our annual family trips to Ocala Florida to see my aunt, uncle and grandmother, I could not resist digging in their back yard. The sandy soil was great when compared to the dirt at home. I lived on Iron Hill Road, appropriately named for the red clay and red rocks everywhere.

In the week we were in Florida my brother and I would often dig holes deeper than our heads, only about 4.5 feet deep probably. The older folks would jokingly ask if we were trying to dig to China and we took it seriously. We thought we could.

Digging for Indian artifacts and buried treasure was always fun. After reading Treasure Island I was convinced pirates had somehow found their way to our farm and left chests of gold and jewels. Although I never had a map, any unusual rock outcropping had to be a marker for the loot.

One of my cousins lived on a farm a few miles away and I would go spend a few nights several times during the summer. Another cousin lived next door and we spent all the days outside, fishing the creek behind their houses, exploring the woods and generally having fun.

In their field there was a huge boulder, so big we could hardly get up on top of it. It was the only one in the area. My cousin got the idea it marked a grave, much like the pyramids. Although the rock was round, it was buried a couple feet deep in the ground. I spent many hours with them trying to dig down on one side, so we could roll the boulder to the side. And they worked on it almost every week. Even with cut saplings as pry bars, we never so much as rocked the rock.

The only sandy soil on our farm was along Dearing Branch. Every summer my friends and I tried to dam it. A dozen yards downstream from where the branch came under the fence on our property line two trees about four feet apart narrowed down the channel. Above it was a wide pool of water.

The trees made a perfect place to make a dam. We managed to drag an old crosstie and put it in front of the trees. Then we spent hours digging up sand, putting it in old crocker sacks to make sand bags to put around it. Our sandbags got too heavy to move with the wet sand in them, but we learned to fill them half way up, drag them in place then finish filling them.

We must have moved tons of sand over the years. Digging it out of the pool made it wider and deeper. But no matter how much we worked, the first big rain would wash out our dam, and fill in the pool with new sand to move.

As I got older digging became more purposeful. My first house in Griffin on College Street had a full basement that got water in it every time it rained hard. I finally figured out a French Drain ditch along one wall would help.

Daddy visited and helped me dig a ditch along that wall. The lower end was ground level, but the upper end was almost eight feet deep. We spent hours digging a ditch about two feet wide along that wall, putting a couple of feet of gravel in the bottom around a perforated drain pipe, and filling it back up.

That did solve the problem.

There was no good place for a dam on our property since the branch ran along the property line, but my mother really wanted a pond. Daddy got the idea of putting one in a field that was somewhat workable since it had a drain across it. He had a dam built across it and after a heavy rain it did fill part way up, but there was not enough drainage to keep it full.

The neighbor a few hundred yards away had a pond with the dam near our property line, but there was a hill between it and momma’s pond. So, we dug a ditch across the hill, put a pipe in it and put a water ram at his dam.

We had to dig down eight feet at the top of the hill and the ditch ran about two hundred yards. I spent many hours in the bottom of it with a pick ax since there were big rocks there. But we managed to get it done and kept mamma’s pond full.

When I moved to Pike County in 1981 I wanted a garden. I cut the trees behind my house, clearing an area about 150 by 200 feet, got it cleaned up and tilled up some beds.

I quickly found that in the spring, usually soon after I planted seeds, rain water running off the land behind me came right through that area. It did not run fast but it kept the ground too wet. So, I dug a shallow ditch down one side and across the lower part of it. That kept the soil in my garden dry enough to let the seeds germinate.

My digging days are about over but I still have some fond memories of moving dirt.