Hands In The Soil

My Dad was the first to convince me that we don’t call it “dirt,” we call it soil. It’s beautiful and rich and it’s from the earth. It’s valuable, a gift. It’s something we respect. Dirt is dirt. Soil is soil. This is soil.

This past week, I felt the impact of the incredible sorrow and grief surrounding those who die and the family they leave behind. As Rachel Held Evan’s last blog post stated, “death is a part of life” and she hoped we could both grieve and celebrate that truth: “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Oh how I hurt for her family and friends and all she touched so deeply with her beautiful, open-hearted posture of love.

I let my heart hurt as I prepare containers in my backyard for gardening, pulling out the old sticks and bits of root, and pouring in new soil and compost and manure and peat moss.

With hands in the soil, I can just bear it a little bit easier, because I feel connected to the universe that little bit more.

Last week in the news: a sweet young couple lost their eighteen-month old girl in one of the most traumatic ways possible: forgetting her in their van while going to work. I can’t even begin to imagine their pain.

With hands in the soil, life and death are connected somehow: the unknown that we cannot see is felt in the life in the dark where my hands are digging down.

Putting our hands in the Earth can bring us into the present, help us feel more–and–deeper than the numbness we might be carrying around, closer to whatever it is you believe lives on beyond this limited world that we can see and experience as human beings.

I learned to respect the Earth and it’s abundance from my parents. We grew everything from carrots and peas, to beans and onions and potatoes, to kohlrabi and lettuce and tomatoes. We had fruit trees in a small orchard behind our house, with many red and black current bushes. The same west side of the house where we watched the orange-pink sun get thinner and thinner in late dusk through our bay windows. My mom picked Linden leaves for tea from the ditches along our country roads. My dad managed a tree farm for many years. I helped seed, weed, harvest and eat the carrots and peas right out of the garden, standing in the cool earth in my bare feet, carrot soil-grit in my teeth and on my tongue. Most delicious thing in the world.

I intimately got to know the seasons of the year and the seasons of the gardens and trees, by seeing and embracing the human patterns of each season. Wet snow and steel toe boots by the door from walking rows of snowy trees and working in the tree barn, jackets and gloves and rain boots and spaghetti straps and sunblock in Spring and hot summer days, rolls and rolls of colourful marking tape (reds, greens, oranges, blues, yellows) in the Fall, and pockets knives, whet stones, pruners and tree callipers , and so much more.

And the smells that bring me back, that reminder me how real this world is: damp burlap, earthy roots uncovered, carrot stems and peas fresh from the hot sun, tree sap and maple leaves and fresh cut wheat across the fields. And the many creatures we encountered: sparrows and cardinals and blue jays, tree caterpillars (loved by me but not by the tree growers), the ladybugs, streams of ants, praying mantis playing her violin, and camouflaged walking sticks on the tree bark. This was real. This was life. This was being planted, slowly and surely.

Life starts in the dark, our hands deep in the dark soil. When it ends for someone we love, we feel the depth of that darkness, oh how deep it goes, on and on forever.

My prayer today, is that you’ll have a chance to put your hands in the soil, to grow something, to know that the cool, damp dark that hurts us so, also sprouts new life that will rescue us.

It takes a long time for something new to grow; it hurts. Our tears water each new seed.

Posted by

Some stories from home, some from travel adventures (usually in autumn), some happening in community, friendship and faith, and some about the vulnerable, lonely and excluded. To honour them because they have changed me for the better and taught me how to love more fully and be loved more fully. Some days are great, some good, some not always good. But overall, it's been a beautiful journey so far, and I feel more like myself every day. -- Debra, writer / photographer / blogger / traveller

I'd love to hear from you!