"Recall that whatever lofty things you might accomplish today, you will do them only because you ate first something that grew out of dirt." --Barbara Kingsolver
The Bagpiper brought home this lovely quote yesterday. She brought it home to a woman weary of dirt's intimate acquaintance, weary of dirt's clinginess, the closeness of decay and the poverty of the soil.
We have a long-running joke about our life here in Maine, that it consists of hardships such as "digging in the ground with sticks." For the last five days, I have been doing exactly that, grubbing and chipping away at frozen clay in the crawlspace under our house, equipped with a motley array of hand-tools that twisted, bent, and--in one case--broke under the force and strain. I did indeed try to dig in the ground with that stick, as my alternative was to arduously extricate myself from under the house to search for something else.
I have been digging drainpipe trenches, a job which would have been merely annoying in the still-warm soil of Autumn. Working in a crawlspace (wigglespace is more accurate) amidst patches of permafrost and icemelt has reduced the job's charm considerably. That said, it was work that had to be done, and no-one else was willing to do it. Given the choice between unpleasant work and life unplumbed, what would YOU choose?
Thus it was that I found myself on intimate terms with the dirt. Those who make their living on the land must seek such intimacy, though only rarely in crawlspaces! We learn to admire its contours and its distinctive scents. We attune ourselves to its changes. We strive to enrich it. We tend to its health.
The earth under the house was musty, heavy with the scent of decaying leaf litter. Brushing away the loose top layer of pale sandy loam, I began to scrape and chip into heavy clay. It was damp and cold, with a faint hint of a metallic mineral scent. Even if exposed to sunlight, this soil would produce no crop. It would require more organic enrichment than the few scattered droppings of a barn cat and yard-strolling chickens. It could be put to better use by a potter than a farmer. (Wouldn't it be grand fun to eat home-grown food on home-grown dishes?)
Still, we work. As the first snowdrops emerge, their pale blossoms shining, we, too stretch toward the sun and bend to touch the earth. We labour as stewards of Creation because it is most essential. Later this Spring, we will till compost and ashes into the garden and plant hundreds of hopeful seeds. Later this Spring, we will till and plant new pastures, fence them in, and plan for the introduction of pigs and cattle to add further fertility. Later, too, we will mulch, weed, prune, and harvest. We will take great savoury bites of soil transformed into produce of rampant ripeness and soul-satisfying feasts.
And here I've learned,
In this Hardscrabble school:
We come from clay.
We come from ashes, yes, and from the earth.
We require the tender urgency of leaves.
We depend on hidden roots.
All that we are emerges from the soil.
All that once was will be, will rise, again.
What is most holy is most humble.
What is most blessed is underfoot.
--copyright Mainecelt, Spring Equinox, 2009