borrow pit

In the mountain West, if you “borrow” dirt from the side of the road to create a drainage ditch, you’ve made a borrow pit. The term probably derives from the English word barrow, meaning a large mound of earth or stones covering a gravesite, or tumulus. A borrow pit also refers to a hole in the earth from which dirt or gravel have been excavated for use elsewhere. In the glaciated Midwest, for example, borrow pits are found next to just about every freeway, the terrain there so flat that earth has to be borrowed to build overpasses. In an era of hand tools, dirt to build up a roadbed was borrowed from a pit and conveyed to the worksite with a wheelbarrow; thus sometimes the feature is called a barrow pit or ditch. This is Kent Haruf near the opening of Eventide: “Beyond the barrow ditches the irrigated corn stood up eight feet tall, darkly green and heavy.”

Conger Beasley, Jr.