I really enjoy dirt. More specifically I really enjoy gardening with my bare hands. I could buy gloves if I wanted to avoid soiling my hands, but then I wouldn’t get to feel the texture of the loam and the grains of sand. I wouldn’t be able to let the soil slip through my fingers and experience how coarse and rocky the earth may be. I may not really grasp whether or not something could grow. Knowing the soil helps me decided what I want to grow. Something that needs a more acidic soil? Or something more basic. How much do I need to work the ground to plant these flowers or vegetables? There is an intimacy about dirt.
I’ve always loved dirt. When I was a kid, I would dig a hole next to the drive way every summer until I was 12. I didn’t stop because I had outgrown it, but because my parents forbade it after I put my little sister into it head first by her ankles. Fun times. Actually, I think I traumatized her and I owe her a sincere apologize. A thousand times over.
Over the years, I still found dirt to play with. As an adult (at least in the biological sense), I discovered gardening. Actually I took a summer job at a nursery and landscape supply company. Sometimes I cultivated small vegetable beds. Other times I tended to large trees with burlap wrapped root balls four or five feet across. College gave me fewer opportunities to indulge my green thumb and over the last few years I have been restricted to whatever pots of tomatoes and basil I can get away with in my apartment.
My faith community started a community garden this spring and I was invited to cultivate a couple plots. I was ecstatic. Tomatoes in clay pots can feel rewarding, but to till more earth and plant more seeds and perhaps see the copious green of many varieties of plants sprout and mature stirs in me a feeling of connection with Creation. Yet the real blessing is that the food grown in the community garden is used to help feed people from the neighborhood through our faith community’s food closet.
I dream sometimes, and it is usually about things grand and impractical. I’ll fess up to that. (I’d also like to posit dreams aren’t dreams unless they feel impractical but I digress).
And when my hands are stained with dirt, my neck is red with sunburn, and I see the flowers on my young squash and tomato plants begin to bloom, I begin to dream. In that dream, I imagine what it would be like if more us left behind our stuffy jobs in cubicles surrounded by concrete. I imagine what would it be like if we walked or rode our bikes to the store or out to eat more often. I imagine a reality where we just interacted with the natural world more frequently.
Am I only the one who after a hike in the mountains or a morning in the garden finds much of privileged creature comforts rather… sterile? Does it all being to feel grey or artificial to anyone else?
And here’s a leap. Do you ever wonder if we would kill less, we would be entertained by violence less, if only we frequently felt dirt in our hands and under our nails? Do you ponder, like I sometimes do, that if more us spent our springs, summers, and autumns nurturing and cultivating seasonal life that only last until the first frost we would see the fragility of creation and catch glimpses of our own finitude?
What if adults playing with more dirt simply helped people hurting and wanting to hurt others see their own humanity and the humanity of others.
Not that dirt will extinguish the evil in the world. But maybe it would take the edge off.
Or maybe this millennial just has more impractical ideas and needs to stop playing in dirt like a child.
I think I’ll take my chances with the dirt.