The Dirtiest Cleanest Hands

© Sue Schlabach

Everywhere I dig—and I am digging at every chance I get these days—I am finding something buried.

And that could be a metaphor for all of us in these days of stay at home orders and isolation. What’s deep inside is sustaining each of us, I’d wager. If we aren’t reaching breaking point, that is.

I’ve had a few breaking points in the early days of April, and then I got my first chances to plunge my hands into some garden soil. If you have some dirt—even a lowly houseplant—I suggest you sink your hands in there. Aren’t your hands a cracked and ragged mess from all this washing and sanitizing? Mine too. But they never felt so clean as when I got them blissfully, blessedly dirty.

So back to the digging and the finding.

© Sue Schlabach


First discovery was the flagstone walkway leading from our front door to the road. I found it a few weeks ago underneath a patch of thyme in the front yard and went at it hard for two days. Then last weekend I was manically planting ostrich ferns by the barn foundation and came across a brick patio (only 8-10 inches under dirt and shallow tree roots). I have yet to fully unearth it. But I have pictures from 1991 that show it in its complete glory. I just didn’t ever imagine that it was still there like some sunken Atlantis. I’d actually rooted around for it two years ago, and hadn’t hit it. Who knew something could sink so far in only 30 years?


© Sue Schlabach


This Saturday it was a garden edge of brick pavers a few inches under sod. It marks the edge of the old Wesbrook family garden. The garden we inherited three years ago was edged in concrete block. The brick pavers I’m finding show that it was much bigger originally. That’s good. I want a bigger garden and I can’t look at those ugly concrete blocks for another summer.

Gutting and repairing the house took precedence over replacing the garden edge in Year One. Year Two we were moving here and settling in. I scowled at those cinder blocks with every spading and hoeing in the garden. So this summer, Year Three, those blocks are going. And instead of having to acquire materials for a new edge, I am digging up the old brick pavers and reusing them.

And making my hands filthy in the process.

May you find a patch of dirt in which to sink your hands and heal your soul.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

May 2, 2020 at 7:25 am

I have also been gardening – I’ve weeded all our borders, planted some cornflower seeds from an old packet I found in the shed (probably won’t come up, but hey, they were there!), painted the shed black, trimmed our “lollipop tree” (a laurel bush I’ve cut into a sphere shape). I can’t do much more clearing as we have nowhere to put the rubbish, and I have no new plants or money to buy any. But our small garden is such a sanctuary, living in a city. And the lack of traffic at the moment is making it especially tranquil and full of bird and insect life. And self-seeded forget-me-nots. Lots of those. It’s been lovely being out in the open air and I feel very lucky to have a patch of ground to be in.

Abner Schlabachreply
May 2, 2020 at 8:09 am

Sue, I loved that whole blog. And I could picture all of it!

May 3, 2020 at 12:44 pm

What will you find next?! So much buried history at The Little Brick.

May 3, 2020 at 3:50 pm
– In reply to: eringundy

I don’t know, but you will certainly hear about it! xo

May 3, 2020 at 2:10 pm

Nice writing & fun blog! I think this Sunday, May 3rd will be Schlabach Day for me–I’ll seek to reach out to you & Ab & Fred electronically before the day’s over!
I’ve been digging through the past myself lately. So if the geologists tell us that it takes thousands of years to create an inch of soil, how does that jive with the inches we dig through when we dig down to the level of the previous inhabitants? It’s something I’ve had to confront lately.
I’m clearing a path for a future fence through an existing hedgerow, clawing through piles of rocks and driftings from the roadside. Not so wunderful “Wunderbar” wrappers, a license plate with plastic backing ready to drive off the lot, a pre-1980’s brown stubby beer bottle, a dinosaur nest of aged-to-gray nylon hay baling string with a mysterious stake-nail attached, and omnipresent, oft-buried, tetanus-tentacled rusty pasture fencing from the previous animal husbandman. But living roots, plus accumulated formerly alive organic matter, plus moisture and various species’ ‘leavings” all lead to soil being created in far less than geological time scales!

May 3, 2020 at 3:49 pm
– In reply to: PeterAllemang

I have hedgerow envy. I’m still unsure how so much dirt could accumulate over this brick patio. I overdid it dogging there yesterday and stuck to planting some things today. So nice to hear from you Peter! Love to you all.

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