Beth Dolinar

Column Beth Dolinar

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries for public television, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Digging the fruits of our labor

May 2, 2013

Weeks like this one, people can be divided into two groups: those who like to dig in the dirt and those who do not. I was raised by a couple of diggers, but the gene did not convey. These first sunny days were meant for pedaling a bike and not digging, but there was work to be done.

Seems the backyard needs a new coat of grass. Sure, it’s greenish already, but as my friend pointed out, those are weeds and there’s a difference. And so he was up with the robins to go and rent a rototiller, which he would use to churn up the soil. My job would be to walk beside him with a rake and smooth out the dirt.

As Patrick was making his first run, I noticed a couple of things. Pa Ingalls did this exact thing on the prairie, except with horses, and I don’t know whether the modern way is much easier. That thing is heavy, and it tends to buck just like a horse. The second thing I noticed is all the rocks and bits of broken bricks being unearthed by the tiller. There were thousands of them, each of which had to be picked up and tossed into a wheelbarrow and then hauled away. After several hundred rocks, I came to realize that this was not a backyard at all, but a rock pile. They built my house on a rock pile. So great was the rock content of the soil, I fear that when we are finished and the dust has settled, I will have to rappel myself down into my backyard.

Patrick is unfazed by all of this. He grew up on a Pennsylvania farm, and then until recently lived on a farm in Argentina wine country. It’s pretty much desert there, a beautiful but scrubby place where tumbleweeds the size of Volkswagens blow across the road. To him, a few rocks are nothing so long as it rains. He put in raised beds last year; there were so many tomatoes I grew tired of eating them by early August, and his hot peppers were so fiery I had to be careful not to touch them. This year, he made room for blueberries and strawberries; he had to special order asparagus, and he’s holding his breath on that.

“After all these years, it still amazes me that you can put something in the ground and in a while – Pop! – it comes up and you have something to eat,” he said. That, my reader friend, is the soul of a farmer and a digger.

You should see my front yard, too. In the fall, he put hundreds of bulbs into the ground, and what the deer didn’t eat turned into a field of tulips with the biggest blossoms I’ve ever seen. The deer munched on the blooms, too, one morning last week. But I can see the lilies popping up now, so it will still be pretty out there.

As soon as the backyard is all churned, we’ll spread the grass seed, and in a few weeks I’ll have my new coat of green out there. I’m guessing it will be satisfying to know I helped plant it.

That’s what digging and gardening and yard work is about, isn’t it? Putting something in the ground and getting an answer, a bright green answer. I think it was Audrey Hepburn who said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” We’re going to have berries and tomatoes – maybe not tomorrow, but soon. And it gets even better. As we were picking up rocks, we saw the tiniest green spear poking its head through the soil.


Beth Dolinar can be reached at



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