Hole To China

by Jake Block

“As for your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow in town who undertook to dig through to China, and he got so far that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which he made.” 
— Henry David Thoreau (Walden Pond [1854])

Sometimes you realize, “I’ve gone as far as I can go,” and here your journey ends, even though you can see down the road that you are on, as far as the eye can see.  It is here you dig in and make your stand.  You could go further, but you now realize that where you were heading simply isn’t where you now want to go, or more precisely, it isn’t ultimately where you want to end up.  It’s one of those things that’s neither Left or Right Hand path, but totally involved with the individual life path of every individual.

At one time or another, I think every kid of my age thought of digging a hole to China in their back yard.  Sometimes you dug a few shovelfuls of dirt and then moved on to something else or you dug deep enough in the yard for your exasperated father to come out in the yard in his slippers, newspaper in hand, telling you to stop that nonsense and get in the house and do your homework, and you WILL fill that damned hole in the morning!  Now, your father didn’t give you a reason why, and it’s doubtful that the average father, circa 1950s, would even know, but my plan to dig to China from Belleville, IL was doomed from the get-go.

Kids know very little of the navigation of such a project… in your untrained mind, you just know that China is a big place, and if you dig through the earth, voila!  There it is.  The reality is that directly on the other side of Belleville, IL is a whole lot of WET.  The Indian Ocean is deep and far away from the target, and even if you made it through the earth and survived the ascent to sea level, all you would see in any direction is water and perhaps the fins of hungry sharks.  Your best chance of digging through to China is from Argentina, but it’s not much of a chance.

Digging to the other side of the planet is pretty much an engineering impossibility. Even if it were possible, you’d have to pass through temperatures that are actually hotter than the face of the sun.  The furthest that humans have ever dug into the Earth is at the Kola Superdeep Borehole, a 7.5 mile-deep drill hole in northwestern Russia. That’s deep, but it still doesn’t come close to cracking the Earth’s thin continental crust.  So it’s no wonder so many kids give up that goal, but most simply transfer it to another destination along their life path.

But we still dig our holes along the path and they become our homes for a season and then we move on.  These represent a series of errors in planning, failed careers, failed relationships and sometimes, just the unquenchable desire to move on, looking for something, somewhere down the road.  It’s in our blood, and probably hardwired into our DNA, as man has been searching for “something” since his earliest days as a sentient being.  We choose a path we want to take from a line on a map, or blaze a trail along unexplored lines of sight, hoping, intuiting, and wild ass guessing that it will be THE PATH that will take us to where we want to go.  Seldom, if ever is it a straight line, and in truth, often involves more twists and turns that an unravelled ball of twine.

It sometimes feels as if life is like one of the primitive “moron mazes” of early computer games.  “Take two steps north… you die… restart.  Take two step south… you meet a penguin… stab penguin… you die.”  If you “play” the game the outcome is ultimately decided from the moment you start, like some divine predestination.  You get to think that acting as directed is as it should be, when we really want to do what is best for us.  We accept the games, even with their limitations because they are safe, but deep down inside, all we want to do is get further down the road where we are sure our reward awaits.  Where is our pot of gold?  Where is our happy life?  Where is our fortune and glory?

Seldom do we realize that often along this path, the only real reward is in making it a bit further down the road, perhaps a little more enlightened than when we started.  Most stall out and stay where they fail and substitute going one for digging in, in hopes of one day making it to China or Shangri-La or Abha or Heaven.  Digging an endless hole to China is an unwise and unprofitable venture, as is feeding a bad investment with a stream of of money or propping up a failed emotional affair with hope that you can turn a cold heart warm.  You’re far better off to cut your losses and move on than to have faith in the success of anything that is doomed to failure.

At one time or another, we will all dig our holes to China, whether romantically enamored or blinded to the realities of a situation, and there will always be those who will attempt to save us from our folly… or hinder us so they can move ahead in a folly of their own.

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