Thursday, March 15, 2007
The Space Between Birth and Death
A memory from last summer...
Josh started our class this morning by asking us to come up with a definition of soil—not a scientific definition, but a description of our own understanding of soil. I can’t describe what happened to me in the moments that followed…but it was surely some kind of revelation. If I had been asked two weeks ago, I would have had a very different response, but this morning my mind sunk deeply into the mystery of what soil really is.
I started out with “organic and mineral materials at different stages of decomposition…” but then the question sunk deeper in me and I was overwhelmed by the soil’s simultaneous identity as the location of both living and dying, generation and decomposition, and I suddenly felt like I was touching an electric current. The soil came alive for me. It was no longer inert, passive “dirt” but an active, mystical, continually transforming substance. I felt in that moment what people mean by saying that the earth is alive.
My definition felt inadequate, but here’s what I wrote: “a transitional, transformative substance between one form of life and another; the space between birth and death, death and birth; the starting and ending place.” My mind went to Alpha and Omega. “If soil is so alive, so mysterious, so sacred, aren’t we the biggest fools for not even knowing it!” I thought. Without farming, I would NEVER have given it a second thought. What we think we know is not actually knowledge. It is just what we think we know. Without active reflection on every single entity or phenomenon we encounter, how can we presume to know anything?
It was a very special moment for me. It brought me closer to an understanding of what “connected to the land” means. We really think we know what we mean when we use phrases like this…but we really don’t until we’ve had an experience that can only be explained in that way. We use such an expression only because it is familiar—we’ve heard it before—not because we’ve experienced anything like it.