Actually, my title is a bit disrespectful. I am thinking about earth, soil, and in a good way- not in a which- detergent-works-best-to-get-it-out kind of way.
I had a dance teacher named Faith. She said something I ponder years later. She noted that we rarely walk on the earth. Once you read that you will notice how we avoid it. We walk on sidewalks, parking lots, asphalt and concrete. Often we step over the small margin of soil, to get from curb to sidewalk without stepping in the dirt. Faith suggested that we need more contact with the earth, for health and renewal. She recounted that Lance Armstrong, while racing the Tour D’France, kept a wire or some physical material, connecting him from his cot to the actual soil. He believed it helped him heal and revive. (Now, if only he had stopped at that and skipped the drugs…)
I walk a mile to work each day, in the city, and since thinking about Faith’s words I have made an effort to step on the earth for a few steps at least each way. There are places between the curb and sidewalk, where now I don’t reach to step straight over but walk diagonally a few steps in the berm. Sounds nuts, I know. But the soil gives me information. Often it is soft and yielding, and I think how the worship of a nurturing Mother Earth makes such sense. Sometimes it is crisply frozen, or dry and packed.
In Edward Jones’ novel The Known World, the main character, a field slave, lingers in the field late in the evening. He takes up some earth and eats it. Tasting it, consuming it, gives him information about what it has and what it needs. It shocked me at first read, but now I liken it to doctors who- in the old way- tap the chest and abdomen and diagnose as much as thousands of dollars worth of tests might today. Because they knew what they were hearing, as he knew what he was eating.
As a gardener I know earth a little. My first year I dug the soil when it was too wet and had giant clods of hard clay when it dried. Now I know when to work the soil in my little plot, and when to leave it rest. I know when to weed- when the earth will give up the roots most easily to my grasp and pull. My husband knows that when I am in a cussed mood for too long, what I need is some time in the dirt. I come back in the house a few hours later, smack my garden shoes together to dislodge the clods, take the nail file to dislodge the black grime under my fingernails, and I am a renewed woman.