Day’s Verse:
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.

Isaiah 40:30-ish

I was absurdly overoptimistic in thinking we’d be able to get those piles off our driveway today. I have to laugh at myself, in retrospect, so naively expecting to have just a few people — almost all women, none extremely athletic — dig a 50-foot long, 22-inch deep trench, plus a 25-square-foot, 2.5-foot-deep pond; finish the French drain; and set up the dirt for the pond. HA!

Not that I’d rate today as a failure at all. No, I’d say it was a huge success. We all worked incredibly hard and did amazing work. Instead of using words, I resort once again to pictures. For those with short attention spans, I offer the before and after pictures. Beneath the fold are more pictures.

BEFORE (actually, people had already been at work for a good half hour already):
Early On 1

Early On 2

End of Day 1

End of Day 2

A huge thank-you to everybody who came and helped dig today. It was really, really hard work, and we couldn’t have done it without you.

More pictures of us working hard beneath the fold.


Karissa: We’ll grace her with the title of Project Manager and Design Engineer. She made the plan and is telling everybody what to do, at least when she’s ambulatory.
Woman Down

Jane: Queen of digging, which really puts taking care of an almost-3-year-old in perspective.
Jane Digging

Dad: Oldest by a 25 years, really didn’t want to do this, and yet stayed and worked super hard the entire time. What parents will do for their kids, I tell you.
Dad Digging

Ruk: Karissa’s roommate and our buddy from WPI, champion with the heavy five-pound mattock. Don’t mess with Maine.
Ruk Pickaxeing

Megan: Karissa’s rommate who really had no reason to help, but did anyway, which makes her truly saintly.
Megan Digging

Brandon: Karissa’s guy, who also had no earthly reason to spend the afternoon sweating in our backyard, but also did anyway. Another hero.
Dad and Brandon Working

Ian: Not a lover of physical activity, but gamely and doggedly worked the entire time. My hero.
Ian Digging

Me: Shovels weren’t my forte, but once I got my hands on a pointy pickaxe, I did my share.
Katie Pickaxe 1
Katie Pickaxe 2
Katie Pickaxe 3


I bought six 10-foot lengths of perf pipe, a flat-bladed shovel, wheelbarrow, and pointy pickaxe first thing in the morning. Nary an hour after buying the pickaxe, I hit a rock with the bladed side.
NOT Indestructable Pickaxe
Good thing that genuine hickory handle held up, even if the blade didn’t. The mattock Ruk used, which my in-laws loaned us, had a label that described it as indestructible. Too bad I didn’t go for one of those.

For most of the day, we basically split into two groups: People digging the trench for the French drain, and people removing the sod layer from what will be the rain garden pond area. I stuck to the trench digging, since when I hop on a shovel, nothing happens. Karissa, Ruk, Megan, and Brandon all worked on the pond area. Ian, Dad, Jane, Ruk, Karissa, Brandon, and I all worked on the trench.

Beneath the topsoil we found an apparently bottomless layer of nearly rock-hard clay that required people with pickaxes to loosen up the soil for people with shovels. This did explain our muddy yard problem: The water just sits on top of that nearly impermeable clayey layer and converts the topsoil to mud for 9 months of the year.

After hours of work, we had dug a recognizable trench.
French Drain 1
At this point, Dad asked Engineer Karissa, “Where did you get the 22″ depth again?” Karissa’s reply: A pulling-it-from-a-hat motion. Then she assured us that no, there was a good reason. Keep digging.

So we kept digging. Eventually we got to 22″ it one point.
22 Inches!
It looked depressingly deep, compared to the depth of the rest of the trench.

We kept digging.
French Drain 2

By the end, after hours of backbreaking labor, we actually had dug about 8 or 9 feet down To Depth. The deeper it got, the harder it was. This was partly because it later in the day we all felt more tired, but also because we had to squat down more and more to hit the pointy end in the right place. Check out the position I was using by the end: Squatted way down with my back almost parallel to the ground, thus:
Deep Pickaxe Work
Early on I commented that I wished I could use my big leg muscles on this project. By the end, it felt like I’d done hundreds of squats for the previous six hours — reasonable, since that’s almost exactly what I spent the entire day doing. My back and legs were in deep agony by the end, and my hands were so exhausted from gripping the tool that I could hardly grasp anything smaller than a water glass (and even that was difficult).

Meanwhile, those sod-busters were finishing up removing the last pieces of sod from the pond area.
Pond Sod 1
Pond Sod 2
Pond Sod 3

Very early on it became clear that unless we wanted to spend every weekend for the foreseeable future digging in the back yard — and, incidentally, parking our car on the street when our next-door neighbors’ SUV was just broken into last night — we would have to get some kind of additional help. A consultation indicated that we could either get more people, or rent a machine. More people isn’t going to happen, so I called R&R Rentals and explained our situation to the very helpful customer service guy.

The guy I talked to quipped, “Next time you have a work party of all women, give me a call, I’ll come!” He then recommended a specific digging thingy (I think it’s this, but I’m relying on his expertise here). Unfortunately, everybody else in the area is also doing their last-minute yard projects before it starts raining, so we couldn’t get it for today. I reserved it for next Saturday, and we’ll be out there rain or shine (and rain is looking more likely, alas) finishing up digging the ditch and the pond area and then moving the dirt and rocks into place.

At least, that’s what I’m hoping for. After today, I have no idea what to realistically expect to accomplish.

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