When Dirt Reconnects with Ground

April 12, 2010

Water now flowing in the mainline, we could finally “jet” the ditches where we place new mainline this last month.

Every time I back fill a ditch I find it amazing that the dirt I dug out of the ground is more than will go back in.  I’ve dug enough ditches to know why, but knowing why does not stop me from remembering the first time I learned, why.

Years ago, when I was much younger, I worked alongside my dad and younger brother backfilling a ditch.  I don’t remember who asked the question, Don or I.  We didn’t ask a lot of questions, but when we did, they were always important, at least to us—important for two reasons.  One was that need to know the why behind the common every-day-stuff.  There are those somethings, that occur in our landscape so often, they are simply normal though we don’t have a clue as to the why they occur.  And isn’t it true that as we get older, and maybe question the WHY to these somethings, we don’t ask the question for fear of looking foolish?

The second reason to ask the question is common among all children, I think, certainly rural children who work and do chores with their father.  Questions are a chance for a break!  Dad was one of those fathers who after a long life of working in the sun knew how to keep a steady pace throughout the day.  Don and I would tire long before him.  A question, if we could get Dad to respond, would often allow for a respite (Of course, there were many times Dad would respond, not lift his head, and not miss a lick.)

“Why is it, when we put back into the ditch the same dirt we dug out, there is so much more?  The pipe we put in wasn’t that big.”  The dirt above the ditch, best I recollect, was a good foot above level ground as we backfilled.  The answer was slow, as answers often were from Dad, and went something like this.  “The ground has been here a long time.  It is compacted and tight.  When we dug it up, it loosened and lost its compaction.  It only seems to grow, but really, it is the same amount we dug up in the first place.  However, because it has expanded, we will put many more shovel fulls back into the ditch than we took out.”

I don’t recall if that was the first time I saw a ditch “jetted,” but it is the first I remember.  Once the ditch was backfilled, we took a six-foot-long pipe with a hose connected to it, turned on water, and shoved the pipe into the ditch.  Slowly, as water saturated the loosened soil, the gaps and voids were eliminated as the soil turned to mud.  We stood above the ditch, and watched as the mounded dirt slowly sunk back into the land from which it came.

We didn’t always jet ditches.  When they were out away from the house, or roadways, we would let them be, and allow them to recompact over the course of time.  So often, there is no hurry, and often, Dad was not in a hurry.

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