This time last year, my husband and I got into a fight over an auger.
If you don’t know what an auger is — I didn’t — it’s basically a big corkscrew used to poke holes in the earth. By “big,” I mean as tall as I am and as heavy. At least, it is in my memory.
This was my first time meeting or attempting to operate an auger. When my husband brought it home from the rental place and asked for help unloading it from the truck, I knew we had trouble.
I’m pretty strong, but notoriously uncoordinated. This means I’m terrible at team sports and general handiwork. I’m also not someone you want chopping wood.
He had rented a two-person auger because it was the only one available. I was bitter that I was the assumed second person to operate it. I asked him to call a friend, but he was reluctant to ask for the help.
After we’d unloaded it I stood petulantly, scowling at the massive screw lying on the ground. I was expected to help operate this thing?!
Why were we poking holes in the ground anyway?
Remember, a year ago was near the beginning of this little thing you might have heard of: the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020 the scope of my world collapsed and was reduced to, basically, my home — with an occasional excursion to others’ yards or trails, but really, mostly, my house and yard.
My husband and I decided early on that this would be the year we’d finally do it: install a garden. After all, we couldn’t go anywhere. Might as well make the most of it by improving this place we’d be staring at for some time. We drew up schemes and plans, bought seeds, sourced materials for fencing and earmarked our first stimulus check toward the endeavor.
As Alaskans are well aware, moose present a nuisance to gardeners, and the fencing to keep them out is purposefully intimidating. We needed to install robust, tall fencing.
We found massive spruce posts on Craigslist and trekked out to Houston one day to load up the truck. It was then I learned that the fence posts require some way of actually being affixed to the ground.
The plan was to dig massive holes in the earth, plunk the fence posts inside and tamp down layers of dirt interspersed with a sort of flat-edged gravel. The first step was to create holes.
I wasn’t into the idea of renting an auger until we hand-shoveled the first hole. My memory may not be entirely accurate, but let’s just say it took days and many blisters. I quickly adapted to the idea of renting a machine.
The moment of truth came when we tried to actually operate the thing.
There are activities I love doing with my husband. Hiking, backpacking, eating, playing games, traveling — these have us on a relatively level playing field, with the exception of Scrabble, which my husband won’t play with me unless he has to make a very significant peace offering.
Hand-eye coordination? Operating heavy machinery? Those are his bailiwick. Not mine.
When I was first learning to drive, my cruel parents taught me on a stick shift. No automatic for young Alli. One burned-out clutch later, I finally learned. But it wasn’t without bitter, grueling, tear-filled times behind the wheel with one parent or another.
Learning any skill from someone I’m so intimately comfortable with raises red flags, because that veneer of benefit of the doubt and politeness is nonexistent. Blame and frustration rise quickly, on both sides.
It was this feeling that settled over my marriage as my husband and I took opposite handles of the auger and faced one another.
He gave me what I remember as vague instructions and turned the machine on. At the flick of another switch, the massive metal corkscrew started to turn.
As it turns out, part of operating an auger is holding the handles so that the corkscrew doesn’t turn you. This requires two things: strength and coordination. Within 30 seconds my husband and I were moving around in a circle, a grim and high-stakes two-person game of ring-around-the-rosy.
I wasn’t properly bracing. Nor could I figure out how. There were several more awkward and terrifying rotations around the auger, which just kept soullessly churning. Finally, my husband hollered over the noise, “Just let it go!”
I did. There was a blur of silver giant corkscrew, he did a quick dance to make sure the handles didn’t spin out and trip him, and finally he turned it off.
It sputtered to a stop. I stomped off, furious.
Later, a friend came over. He and my husband hopscotched their way across the marked garden site, popping in holes as they went. They were done in 20 minutes. I made cocktails as a thank you and we hung out in the drizzling rain a little while, until he went home. All in all, it took 45 minutes to punch 12 holes in the earth and raise a glass afterward.
This year, both my marriage and garden are intact. No moose got past the fencing. I’m not planning on more massive home improvements — I’m setting my sights again on visiting places away from where I live.
But I also have these funny, telling stories sunk in the ground and around my home. And I’ve learned some things: to keep growing at the things I’m naturally adept at, and to never again operate a two-person auger.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.