In Holes by Louis Sachar, Stanley Yelnats is sentenced to eighteen months at a boys’ penitential camp, where each boy must dig a five-foot hole in the desert every single day. Five feet across in every direction, five feet deep. “If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy,” some people thought. “The first hole’s the hardest,” the other boys assure him. After a grueling first day of blisters, backache, and sun, he drags himself back into camp and compares notes.
“Well, the first hole’s the hardest,” said Stanley.
“No way,” said X-Ray. “The second hole’s a lot harder. You’re hurting before you ever get started. If you think you’re sore now, just wait and see how you feel tomorrow morning, right?”
“That’s right,” said Squid.
“Plus, the fun’s gone,” said X-Ray.
“The fun?” asked Stanley.
“Don’t lie to me,” said X-Ray. “I bet you always wanted to dig a big hole… Every kid in the world wants to dig a great big hole,” said X-Ray. “To China, right?”
“Right,” said Stanley.
“See what I mean,” said X-Ray. “That’s what I’m saying. But now the fun’s gone. And you still got to do it again, and again, and again.”
The second year on a fixer-upper is the hardest.
The first year we were exuberant—the faults of the property didn’t matter, because we were going to change it all anyway. Fresh energy, fresh ideas, the newborn joy of acquisition. It was all ours!
We planted trees, bought animals, dug a garden, and mowed grass for hours and hours and hours.
One year later, much has changed, but less than we hoped. Most of our trees didn’t live, killed by frost or deer or lawnmowers. Most of our animals didn’t live, killed by cars or traps or wild animals. The energy flags. The ideas age. The rose rubs off.
One year later, we plant more trees, knowing they may not live. We get more animals, hoping, hoping. We expand the garden, plant the seeds deeper.
One year later, I draw less joy from the idea and more joy from the act. Much more. I spill countless seed packets into fresh earth, although I have little faith they’ll grow. I just like putting them in.
We’re smarter this year, knowing how to do things a little better, and also smarting, knowing that our mistakes are just beginning. This is the only way we know to learn: knowing better than last year but not as much as next year. The second year’s the hardest.
The undeveloped brushy parts of the property bothered us a little, last year—the scrap metal and old tires, the thistley areas and overgrown banks—but only a little. We had the rest of our lives to fix it up. This year we mind them more. We’ve lived here over a year, you know? We should have had time to get to them by now…
The second year’s the hardest.
Shari dug her shovel into the dirt.
“You’re right,” he said to X-Ray. “The second hole’s the hardest.”
X-Ray shook his head. “The third hole’s the hardest,” he said…
All too soon Stanley was back out on the lake, sticking his shovel into the dirt. X-Ray was right: the third hole was the hardest. So was the fourth hole. And the fifth hole. And the sixth, and the…
He dug his shovel into the dirt.
After a while he’d lost track of the day of the week, and how many holes he’d dug. It all seemed like one big hole, and it would take a year and a half to dig it… He figured that in a year and a half he’d be either in great physical condition, or else dead.
He dug his shovel into the dirt.
Stanley dug his shovel into the dirt. Hole number 45. “The forty-fifth hole is the hardest,” he said to himself.
But that really wasn’t true, and he knew it. He was a lot stronger than when he first arrived.