It All Begins With the Soil


Our lives rely completely upon soil. My life in the country is very simply and easily attributed to a direct link with the soil. In the city you may feel as if you are a few miles removed from getting dirty yourself, but in reality you are just one small step from having manure under your fingernails just to prevent starvation. Even the astronauts in the space station are not immune from requiring the basic necessities of life which we indeed must derive from the soil. With life itself hinging upon the presence and condition of this most necessary substance, shouldn’t we all feel some obligation to consciously contemplate the crumbly crust of the earth for at least a few minutes each day?

I’m not saying that we all must actively advocate changes in the world view of soil by jumping on a soapbox and slinging sermons at passersby, although that would be a sight to see. I just feel that each of us should take a few minutes a day to deliberate over a patch of dirt. Do you remember yourself as a child, taking a stick in your hand and just digging a little bit, gasping over the life you found, exclaiming cries of delight over just one wriggling earthworm? Try to remember that exuberance with which you planned your escape tunnel to your friend’s backyard, only to find out that digging is HARD, and tunnels aren’t as easy as you imagined. Channel that child-like curiosity, find yourself a bit of dirt somewhere, touch it, smell it, but most importantly observe it. Take off your glasses and get down close to it. See the tiny little creatures moving about in their miniature neighborhood, brushing shoulders with other creatures of an entirely different genus without batting an eye, if indeed they have eyes. Allow yourself to be in awe over the complexity of a handful of soil.

Statistics, which as we all know can be unreliable, are bandied about telling us that one teaspoonful of soil can harbor billions of individual organisms. However inexact that statement is, it points to a generalization that if you were to take a scoop of healthy soil into your hand, you would be holding more living beings than there are humans on the earth. Whatever your religious beliefs are, this should foster some kind of reverence, knowing that in your hand you hold an entire world. Some of those organisms will never leave that general vicinity that you are cradling in your palm. They will live out their entire lifespan within a few cubic inches of soil, passing on that space to generation after generation of their own kind, not just using it to sustain their own life but improving it with their presence. They will leave that earth more rich in nutrients and more structurally sound than when they started their short life. As a species, it is woeful that we cannot say the same for ourselves; we move so quickly over our territories, using up the resources in the soil which took thousands of years to accumulate, even allowing that soil to run off with water, blow away with the wind, or be loaded into a truck and sold to the highest bidder.

I will write many more articles about soil, and the biological intricacies of it, but let this one serve as an introductory chapter. I just want you to think about dirt, for just a few minutes, each day.


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