Cumberland Times-News

Maude McDaniel - Living

November 19, 2011

An admiring ode to the wonders of dirt

Let us all praise — dirt.Yes, that’s what I said, dirt.

The most common stuff in the world, right?

What we wash off ourselves, morning and night. Over and over again. What whole companies make huge profits getting rid of.

I want you to praise dirt?

You bet! And here’s why.

Our whole world is dirt. Without it, where would we be?

Pretty bad off, I think. If I have it right, between us and the fires inside this world we live on, there is nothing but — dirt. That’s for starters.

Dirt is all around us, all the time. It probably appears in more forms than any other substance in the world. Dust, soil, land, ground, rock minerals, earth, topsoil, subsoil, alluvium, loam, clay, loess, marl, sand, silt, sod, real estate, acres, property, territories, freeholds, countries, hemispheres — and, oh yes, the Earth.

And they’re all — dirt! Some of it pathetic, by human standards of valuable earth; some of it rich and productive and thus worth something in our limited human judgment. Besides that, it’s something we may share with some of the other creatures of the universe, certainly Mars and the moon, although their dirt is perhaps pretty useless by our standards. Still, it’s dirt.

And since our whole world is made of dirt, and probably a lot of other worlds too, we need to take a closer look at it.

Of course, some kinds of dirt are more valuable than others. Gold dust probably leads the pack in monetary worth,, but as far as sheer usefulness is concerned, it’s a dud at being dirt. Plant tomato seeds in gold dust and you don’t even get bugs.

Historically, dirt has always been valued for two things: from way back as a source of food, and in recent times as being a place to build such things as Walmarts on.

And historically, it’s been the things that come with the dirt that we value, the food, the gold, the minerals, the oil, the copper, the coal. Of course, they couldn’t exist without the help of the dirt, but we just throw it away, and so far, there has been enough dirt that we don’t miss it. That may change in the future but not in my lifetime, so I’m not going to worry about it.

Of course, one lucky thing about being human is that you can play at being Creator by making your own dirt. It’s called compost, I have instructions right here, if you ever run out of dirt: Chop garden clippings, layer with kitchen scraps, water until just damp, let it all “cook” (so to speak.) Turn the pile once a week for awhile, and then add to your garden. Sounds like a lot of work to me and I’m beyond work at this point, but I thought I would include it for my energetic reader.

I can even go one step beyond that by making edible soil, which I understand is in great demand at a restaurant in Copenhagen. It’s made of “a simple mixture of bread, mushrooms, onions, olives and nuts that when mixed together has “an earthy taste with a sweet note.” I have to give it credit— in the picture it truly looks like real dirt.

But, seriously, I can get a little dewey-eyed about dirt, because it has had a long history in human culture. It is no accident that one of the early figures of Greek mythology was the giant Antaeus, who drew strength from the ground. Of course, he was a great fighter (as were all those ancient Greek folks. It’s pretty obvious that men did most of the creating of those ancient stories, because they are always fighting, always — sorry, peaceful men.

Anyway, every time poor Antaeus got slammed down to earth he got up stronger than ever, which was pretty hard on enemies who didn’t know his secret. In case you’re interested, he did fine until he met Hercules, who found out his secret and held him up off the nurturing earth until he lost all his strength, poor guy. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite fair.

I have always marveled at the fact that, when you think about the basic nature of what God has to work with — just dirt to start with, then, you know, what comes of this simple dirt: that is, plants, trees, hills, valleys, muntains, deserts, etc. — hardly any one place in the world looks the same as another. Put me down in any natural scene from my past and, if my memory were better these days, I could probably identify it. So little raw material for God to build on, and such a rich and varied result.

And of course, we all end up back there in the earth one way or another, soorner or later. Or as Walt Whitman so memorably puts it, “ I bequeathe myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, /If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.”

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.

1
Text Only
Maude McDaniel - Living
  • Very first memories of a very long life

    July 27, 2014

  • July gotcha down? Maybe these will help

    •In a hospital's Intensive Care Unit, patients always died in the same bed on Sunday morning, at about 11:00 a.m., regardless of their medical condition. This puzzled the doctors and some even thought it had something to do with the super natural. No one could solve the mystery as to why the deaths occurred around 11 a.m. Sunday, so a worldwide team of experts was assembled to investigate the cause of the incidents. The next Sunday morning, a few minutes before 11 a.m. all of the doctors and nurses nervously waited outside the ward to see for themselves what the terrible phenomenon was all about. Some were holding wooden crosses, prayer books, and other holy objects to ward off the evil spirits. Just when the clock struck 11, Pookie Johnson, the part-time Sunday sweeper, entered the ward and unplugged the life support system so he could use the vacuum cleaner.

    July 13, 2014

  • Hiccup cure you may find hard to swallow

    Let’s give a cheer for one of the things in the human experience that the scientific researchers haven’t fully figured out yet: how to cure hiccups! Somehow it kind of restores your faith in the world, doesn’t it?
    But don’t think they haven’t tried.

    June 28, 2014

  • She learned to laugh with relatives’ help

    Sometimes there are people in our lives whom we have never credited with all the influence they had on us when we were growing up.And now it is too late to thank them personally. I am about 50 years past due on this one (or two) but maybe somehow, somewhere they will get a hint of it — and — smile. Fondly, I think..

    June 15, 2014

  • Signs of aging and what comes with it

    It’s been awhile since I last informed you of new signs of old age, and meanwhile none of us have gotten any younger. (I’m working on it, I’m working on it.) I find one of the best things I can do to stay young is to read the obituaries. It reminds you that you are still alive and there are times in one’s life when that can be a serious concern. Of course, the trick is to avoid reading the obituaries for people you know, first checking the pictures for familiar faces. But for the folks you never met, they are remarkably invigorating, especially if they were older than you are. It gives you a goal in life — and we all need goals, right?

    June 1, 2014

  • Torn between failing in two different fields

    Which do I like better, singing or writing?
    That's a tough question to answer.
    Singing's got it all over writing as far as when I started (at about 5 in the church choir) but writing is certainly a close second. I have somewhere a collection of poems that I wrote from about eight on and I have the feeling that they are lost for a reason! As I remember, they were pretty awful, not at all the kind of effort an aspiring writer would be proud to quote 75 years later!

    May 19, 2014

  • Bad habits are hard to eliminate — but try

    Somebody mentioned smoking on these pages recently, so I thought I'd put in my own two cents on the subject. I started smoking in college, during exam week. The problem was that I was too busy during the rest of the year ever to stop and study for my courses — at least that is what I told myself — because I worked almost every night on the college newspaper. So when exam time kicked in, I threw some all-nighters for study. And the best way to stay awake all night (especially if you don't regularly smoke) is to, well, smoke.

    May 4, 2014

  • Trivial questions you don’t have to answer

    Every so often in this life, my mind, all on its own, generates questions that have no real answers. So I have decided to pass them on to you. I’m tired of them. If you come up with any answers, let me know. Remember when TV jealously guarded the time zone before 9 p.m. for wholesome shows that children could watch. My gosh, how many years ago was that? It seems like another world nowadays, when you can see murders, torture and rape, or those implied, every hour on the hour, somewhere on your public screen. It might be comforting then, to remember that most children nowadays are glued to their little machines with whole different worlds on them, that they can access all day long. Except that in these different worlds they also can view murders, torture and rape on demand.

    April 20, 2014

  • Rusty writes about the nature of doghood

    I am a dog.
    Therefore I bark.
    I don’t understand why it is so hard for humans to understand this.
    I mean, there are certain things that come with the territory, right?

    April 5, 2014

  • Free-range reminiscing and occasional nostalgia

    When I was in grade school, (many more years ago than when either of you were in grade school) my daily winter (fall, spring) routine included walking to school across a railroad track.

    March 22, 2014

Latest news
Facebook
Must Read
House Ads