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The Power of Lawn Thatch


Sometime this spring, a dent appeared at the low point of my sister’s sizeable back yard in Des Plaines, Illinois. It wasn’t a hole, but simply a dimple…and over the next couple of months, got lower and wider. I hadn’t seen it for seven weeks when we went over there about a week ago, and this time, at the center of the dimple was a five-inch-wide hole into blackness.

In a moment of manic heedlessness, I stuck my arm down the hole, and it went all the way to my shoulder without my fingers brushing anything like bottom. I waved my arm around, and found that there is substantial emptiness down there. I went back into the house for a broom, and with the handle found that the hole was four and a half feet deep, and went on horizontally in all directions farther than a broom handle would reach.

This was interesting because I was standing right where my sister’s broomstick told me there was no dirt supporting the grass. The grass didn’t seem to be yielding under my weight (about 155 fully dressed) and although I didn’t try jumping up and down, I did feel around the edges of the hole, and discovered that the thatch was about six inches thick and very dense.

Then I got a wonderful, non-grinchy idea: I ran back to the car and grabbed my small Kodak EasyShare V530 digital camera. I turned it on, gripped it carefully, and then thrust it down into the hole. I took eight shots before the battery croaked (it had been in need of a night-long charge for days and days) and when I got back here, popped the camera’s SD card into the reader on the PC, and discovered a dark, creepy wonderland.

Most of the shots failed simply because there was a jungle of dangling root tendrils hanging from the underside of the lawn thatch, and the camera’s autofocus mechanism focused on the roots and not on the more distant walls of the cavern. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the storm drain pipe that ran nearby (there’s a manhole about six feet away from the hole) and which we suspect has collapsed. But no; there are roots and fresh plant debris washed down into the hole, but not much else to see. The village has told Gretchen and Bill that they are going to (at some point) dig where the hole is and see what needs to be done. That will be interesting, though when it will actually happen is unclear. The hole is still too small to admit dogs or small children, so it may be awhile yet. I want to get back there and take a bunch more photos on a fully charged battery, angling the camera in the direction of the manhole and hoping that I won’t drop it.


I am amazed at the strength of healthy lawn thatch, and only a little less amazed at my enthusiasm for such a peculiar thing as a hole in the backyard. (I guess my inner 12-year-old isn’t completely dead.) Then again, life generally hands us fewer peculiar things than we might want, and in an otherwise slack week they can make life deliciously worth living.


  1. Darrin Chandler says:

    I’m not at all surprised by your fascination with something unusual. This “monkey curiosity” is what got us where we are, despite cautionary tales about curiosity killing the cat.

  2. Michael Covington says:

    In Georgia, sticking your hand down a hole would have gotten you bitten by a snake (with appreciably nonzero probability, or at least that’s what we normally think).

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