Chippewa Herald * May 16, 2007   Visitor
Counter by Digits

"Recreational hole" is a summertime tradition

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

I love May. Everything is blooming, you can wear shorts and a T-shirt, and you don't have to worry about mosquitoes yet. But my favorite part of May is the smells -- with the sweet fragrance of blossoming lilacs and fruit trees hanging in the air, even mowing the lawn is a pleasure.

Smells trigger memories like nothing else. Mixed in with the floral scents in our backyard is the smell of freshly turned earth, emanating from a hole. I've never been in the excavating business, but I have a long history of digging just for fun.

When my brother Jim and I were young, our friends Mark and Tom Wald, who lived kitty-corner from us, decided to dig a hole to China. They invited us to help out. We started digging, but I was a little skeptical.

I remember wondering what would happen when we reached the exact center of the earth. After that point, continuing on our way toward China, wouldn't we then be digging UP? It was bad enough to think that every spadeful of dirt would fall down on faces, but then I realized a bigger problem: While digging up, what do you STAND on?

It was a moot point, as the neighbor boys soon lost interest. Maybe it was because they realized that they can't defy the laws of physics. (Or that it gets really HOT toward the center of the earth!)

Or maybe it was because they found out that their parents were really just putting in a garden, and let them have some fun before they planted anything.

But Jim and I were already hooked. Digging was fun! You find all sorts of buried treasures like June bugs, worms mysteriously cut in half, plant roots, and rocks. LOTS of rocks. Every time the shovel stopped with a clink, you can't help thinking that maybe, just maybe, this is a long-lost treasure chest buried in the ground.

It took us a year or two, but we finally persuaded our parents to let us dig a hole in our own yard. By this time, we had outgrown the China thing, but we wanted an extra-cool "fort" to hide out in.

We started a new hole in our spacious quarter-acre lot, right behind the sandbox. I think our parents underestimated our determination. That backyard hole became a magnet for all sorts of future engineers, as we bore down further and further.

Eventually it got so deep that we couldn't throw the dirt out! Some boys would lower a bucket on a rope, wait for other boys down below to fill the bucket with dirt, and then hoist it back up and dump it onto the ever-growing pile.

We had to carve out earthen steps with our shovels to enter and exit.

When cold weather approached, we slid a big sheet of old plywood over the top. Now we could use it in the winter! Holes are great in all seasons -- they're cool in the summer and warm in the winter (at least compared to sub-freezing temperatures out on the surface of the earth).

You might be wondering how you END a project like this.

In our case, it was easy -- sell the house! Actually, my parents sold that house rather unexpectedly in the winter of 1972, when they bought a bigger house at an auction. (I don't know why they thought we needed a bigger house -- our house had to be over a THOUSAND square feet, plus a BASEMENT! And there were only five of us kids.)

Unfortunately for the buyer, that winter featured a deep blanket of snow which totally covered the plywood and the hole, except for the little entryway.

There is no spot on the "seller's disclosure form" for a backyard hole.

Remembering how much fun it was to dig a hole, I let my own sons start one in our backyard in Hallie in the mid-1990s. Unlike my old neighborhood, with the telephone poles and electrical wires overhead, all the utilities were underground in our new neighborhood. So we had to call Digger's Hotline to get permission to proceed.

The man on the phone wanted to know what the name of my project was. Usually it's something like "build a deck" or "plant a tree," he explained. I told him that were simply digging a hole, just for the fun of it!

But he insisted that every project needs a name for the form he was filling out. He suggested a great moniker: "Recreational Hole." That had a nice ring. From that moment on, we could brag to our friends that our landscaping featured a Recreational Hole.

When our kid-count was at four and climbing, we followed my parents' example and moved to a bigger house. (As a grownup, you can more clearly predict the space constraints of five kids before they turn into teenagers.)

The summer of '99 in our new house in Chippewa Falls was consumed with unpacking, planting a lawn, raising ducks, and building shelves.

But by the second summer, our sons could wait no longer. A spot in the "back woods" was selected, and new hole was planned.

This time I knew exactly what to name the project when I called Digger's Hotline.

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