Digging Into Spring
And striking pay dirt
By Brian Faulkner
Illustration by Harry Blair
I’ve decided that, way back when, somebody got it wrong. Christmas should be in the spring. There’s so much natural joy built into this season, so much fresh surprise. An early March walk through Winston-Salem’s Reynolda Gardens will convince you of that. The daffs strung along the paths and scattered among the trees delight like young girls in sundresses.
As kids, we did not have our minds on flowers. We couldn’t wait till the ground dried out enough to dig in the dirt. Our mom was less enthused, however, because of the dirt we brought home, although she was otherwise fair and even stuck up for us when Dad got mad when we messed with his tools. She wanted to be a writer something crazy but settled for doing the cooking and the laundry and cleaning up after four children who attracted dirt to themselves like a magnet draws ten-penny nails. She would have appreciated knowing that, decades down the road, medical science finally decided that a little springtime dirt is good for children because it helps build their immune systems after the winter sniffles season.
The father of a friend three houses down drove a big old dump truck and, about the time the lawns started coming alive, would unload a huge pile of loam on the bare side of his yard. He may have meant to make a stand of grass out of it but never seemed to get that far. So we kids dug intricate roadways in his dirt mountain and ran our toy metal cars over them for hours at a time. Another dirt-laden pastime was digging to China from our backyard, which we pursued with considerable gusto. Dad, however, found the idea more annoying than amusing and made sure that we filled one hole back in before digging another, which severely retarded our progress.
You might have thought I’d end up building roads for a living or doing landscaping, like one of my daughters. Alas, my digging mostly has been limited to a half-hearted whack at a vegetable garden from time to time and burying newly-deceased pets in the woods behind our house, a task that requires more slashing at roots and rocks than digging in the shallow topsoil.
My parents had no suggestions I can recall regarding what their firstborn might do for work, and I had little idea myself. Athletics were out. I was a whole-hearted disgrace at football and a middling baseball player — even got fooled once into playing “left out.” Academically, I was a classic underachiever and didn’t seem cut out for much of anything, especially if it required higher order math. I had my nose in a book almost all the time, however, and developed an ear for words. But I didn’t find a practical use for them until late in high school, having at last discovered that a well-crafted word blizzard was a pretty good substitute for actually knowing the material. I can still see the picture that formed in my teenage mind: me in my cluttered writer’s nook bending to the task with pleasure, knowing it was deep and serious and good. “When you find something at which you are talented,” says Stephen King, “you do it until your fingers bleed . . . or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head.”
For this man who used to be a boy who loved digging in the dirt, that something is writing (and photography, which is writing for the eyes). For others, like my neighbor Cindy, it’s gardening — all she has to do is glance at something green and it will leap into bloom, or so it appears. For you, maybe it’s fishing that brings pleasure or hiking . . . or even daydreaming. Spring is perfect for all of these things, and you don’t need an outsized talent to enjoy them. So go ahead. Cast off winter’s shabby coat, don your warm weather duds and dig into spring. It’s Christmastime . . . in March. h
Based in Winston-Salem, Brian Faulkner is, among other things, a five-time Emmy award-winning writer of magazine-style programming on UNC-TV.