by Nita Hill

Piles of topsoil waiting to be de-topsoiled.

The last few weeks have been devoted to grass excavation. My sharpshooter shovel is dented, no more sharp edge. Too often when I shove the shovel I hit a rock. The recoil hurts my wrist and shoulder. There are sod chunks all over the back yard from where I am reshaping the borders. I throw and kick the sod around until all the top soil falls out and the remainder of mostly moss goes into the green can.

Speaking of top soil, the only top soil I have resides in the sod. After much digging around, I realize that all my soil is sand. I’ve never gardened in sand before. I can get as dirty as I want and no clay stains on my clothes, especially my socks since I wear Crocs.

Over the last sixty years, the grass has managed to create about 4 inches of topsoil. Clearing out grass is like a day at the beach if you were clearing out grass at the beach. When I’m not digging out sod, I work on the area that once was a patio. At the bottom of the lot someone carved out a level spot, rolled out landscape cloth, laid some flag stones and filled it in with small river rocks. When I lift the flag stones, the grass roots grow happily and it reminds me of tatting. I used to love to watch my great-aunt Stella tat: pure magic.

As for the sand, it is a result of the Missoula Floods or more lyrically, Ancient Cataclysmic Floods, that occurred periodically at the end of the last ice age. There was a massive ice dam on the Clark Fork River that created Glacial Lake Missoula. When it ruptured, it flooded east central Washington all the way to the Willamette Valley in western Oregon via the Columbia River. The largest flood discharged water at a rate thirteen times the Amazon and at a velocity of 80 MPH. Since we live above the river less than a half mile, we are blessed with the floods leavings, namely sand rather than soil and rocks which dull my shovel.