Sometimes I Eat Dirt
Plough magazine recently published an essay of mine on eco-gardening, which is also a theme in my novel about fracking.
In my garden, I squat and scoop up a handful of soil. Dark brown and crumbling, it looks lifeless except for a few delicate rootlets, maybe a pink worm-end. But in this handful, more living organisms thrive than there are human beings on earth. That’s over seven billion living things, mostly invisible to the naked eye, but busy interacting, living and dying, in the palm of my hand. This is not just dirt. It’s a complex of ecosystems, more diverse than a rain forest. It’s a tiny empire of microbes: bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes.
Old farmers sometimes taste a little soil to ascertain the pH level, and I’m aspiring to be an old farmer someday, so I touch my tongue to the soil in my hand. Is it sweet or sour? Hard to tell: I’m too wary to go beyond a tentative lick. Eating dirt is not considered civilized behavior, and we are trained from an early age to shun the dirt, to set up sharp dividing lines between ourselves and that which might contaminate – physically, and spiritually....