Dirty Pleasures

My 8-year-old son desperately wants to dig. Holes. In our back yard.

"I need a foxhole, Dad," he informed me the other day.

"Are you expecting an invasion?" I inquired.

But he wasn't going to let me drag the discussion into the quagmire of logic. And since I wasn't biting on the need for a strategic defense buildup, he decided to go for the historic-preservation angle.

"Remember I dug a hole at the old house, and if I hadn't, I wouldn't have found those river rocks and learned about our house's past."

As I struggled with the thorny equation--thwarting my son's development vs. big, dirty holes in the yard--I came across a missive from Colonial Williamsburg that just might solve both our problems: From June 28 to Aug. 6, the Virginia historic site is sponsoring a field clinic in archaeology for children on the grounds of the 1773 public hospital there. Kids can get their hands dirty in a mock excavation, digging in an area salted with pottery shards, bricks, shells and other Colonial-type artifacts, followed by a discussion designed to introduce kids to archaeological techniques and analysis.

There will be two "Kids' Digs" sessions a day (1 and 3 p.m.), open to any child age 8 to 12 with a $20 annual Patriot's Pass--which is also good for admission to any part of Colonial Williamsburg. The digs are limited to 12 kids per session, so it would be wise to make reservations. Call 757-220-7724 between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. any day but Tuesday. I'm thinking maybe I'll do it fast. Save my lawn.

--Tom Shroder, Vienna

Serenity Now

What do the following four people have in common: James Buchanan, Joan of Arc, Dante and the muse Serenity? Well, not much. That's why it's a surprise to find them all immortalized in statues scattered through Meridian Hill Park, the foot of which is at 16th and W streets NW.

The park is an urban gem, in part because it feels as if the architect was playing some sort of joke by melding together elements of formal gardens in a place where it was impossible for them to be. After all, who would have thought to build a sculpted park on the very fall line where Washington's topography undergoes a dramatic drop?

It centers around a striking set of 13 cascading fountains, but you'll feel a little off-balance near them, not just because the ground beneath you is slanted but because the park's layout isn't quite symmetrical and a high wall prevents you from seeing the park's large upper terrace. In this sort of chaos, the 15th-century woman credited with leading the French against the English might just as well reside along with our only bachelor president, famous for lacking the will to do anything but appease the slaveholding South.

In fact, the park is a human melting pot as well. On a nice weekend, you'll notice people of all ages and races there, doing their own thing. You may see a neighborhood soccer game in the high end of the park, suntanners in the gardens of the lower end, children in the fountain and dog-walkers everywhere. Watch your step.

--Michael J. Raphael, Washington

CAPTION: Youngsters unearth Colonial-style artifacts at Colonial Williamsburg's "Kids' Digs."

CAPTION: Joan of Arc commands a leafy view of Meridian Hill Park in Northwest Washington.