The second year

In [amazon_link id=”0440414806″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Holes[/amazon_link] 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.

–Louis Sachar

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11 years ago

Love how you applied Holes to your life!

Does the same thing work with children?

11 years ago

At your suggestion, we just bought “Holes” and totally loved it! Whitney, Guy, and I have raced thru it– then reread. I don’t always think of all the ways to apply it– but it definitely works the way you’ve described gardening, fixer-uppers, and a host of other things! You guys ARE stronger. But just a note: enjoy just for the joy’s sake. Vegetables are only a byproduct of gardening. “Aw”s are only a byproduct of flower-gardening. Gorgeous home-shows are only a by-product of fixing up a house/home. Do it for the joy of doing. You’re creating beauty (what God created us to do). You’re also taming your corner of the world. Now I better get busy on my corner.

11 years ago
Reply to  Renita

The joy of doing I like that…

11 years ago

I love that book. 🙂 I hope you’re able to make progress on your fixer-upper this year.

Mama Zook
11 years ago

and after a while, the children are big enough to help you with the hole digging and it’s always more fun when there’s more than one or two working at it! Especially if there is something planned after so many holes are dug…like swimming, or picnics or ….

Mama Zook
11 years ago
Reply to  Mama Zook

I’m also hoping we can help you on your fixer upper!!

11 years ago
Reply to  Mama Zook

I love you. Can you come live with us?


11 years ago

I love the beauty you are creating around the place. And the long-term vision is good, although hopefully not so long-term as to be out of reach…

11 years ago

Cheers to you for staying engaged….and from my perspective, I see progress at your homestead!!! Those brick-lined flowerbeds………….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I loved reading that you’re more in love with the process than the idea……… that’s progress!!!!!

Janelle Glick
11 years ago

For me, the first hole is hardest to start if I can’t envision the depth, the width, pretty much the finished product – well, really, this just applies to flowerbeds and lawn care. I can easily try and fail in most other areas. I’m not sure why it’s difficult for me to just go ahead and dig out the plant I don’t like anymore (too afraid of being wasteful?) or to go ahead and buy the one that catches my eye at the green house (too frugal?) Ok, I’m seeing a theme. Maybe I should just go with what I’ve got, dig out the dandelions from my yard, plant them in my front flower bed, and call it a new trend. 🙂

11 years ago
Reply to  Janelle Glick

We’d gladly donate some dandelions if allowed by US export laws.

11 years ago

Ahh yes. Even with a newer home that needs finished, before you can get all done with the finishing of the original, the house needs major help elsewhere. We purchased a modular home that was completely unfinished upstairs (not even insulation) and have been slowly finishing it as time and money permit over the last 7 years. We still aren’t completely done. And now the downstairs needs much in the way of new floor coverings and fresh paint on the walls . . . I have decided that I will look forward to my mansions in heaven, cause with 7 people in a moderately small space, it’s not happening here on earth! 😉

Donna M
11 years ago

It surely is “living in the moment and enjoying what is now” that makes life meaningful and full. without the dreaming and scheming..the future would be less exciting, it’s just that for me it’s so easy to get the two confused ..and that perfect world i create in my mind can keep me from enjoying the less than perfect now. There is a reason, i truly believe that perfection is not found totally and completely here on the earth..the longing will follow us home..or maybe truer still the longing will bring us Home. Home in our hearts even while we live here on earth. Thanks for sharing this and reminding me to embrace longing for perfection..and yet live well here.

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