Dirt Part III


Later I would discover there were other kinds of dirt besides my home dirt.  A visit to a beach was a marvel. This gritty, non-stick dirt, wholly unlike my home dirt, was restricted to two colors-wet and dry, and bore little resemblance to my home hardpan with its various greasy shades of brown, rust and blue.


The farmyard dirt at the children’s zoo was pungent, fumy.  The spongy dirt of a cedar forest floor gave way underfoot; the prints left behind gleaming with water brought to the surface.


The dirt in a vineyard seemed not at all like dirt, but like little rocks, and rocks smaller yet.
Later than this, I would make the connection between dirt and life, that healthy soil was full of worms and other living creatures. My erroneous assumption that the grass around my ranch house in suburban Detroit was a blanket to keep the dirt out of the house was actually a medium supporting life- a mildly shocking discovery. More shocking was the discovery that there are people who feel at home with dirt, and others who assiduously avoid it.  There were gardeners, and non-gardeners.  Now that I am much older, I realize that even those people who do not garden, who do not love dirt as I do, can love, appreciate and respect the beauty of a garden.  We get along fine.dirt-pt3

More Dirt



Wet weather transformed my beloved dirt; I loved my mudpies in all their shapes,  like any kid. This was how I became interested in recipes for dirt, a lifelong interest that I would never apply to cooking food. I am sure a child invented the benign form of the word mudslide, and its action verb companion, mudsliding. Muddy dirt games progressed inevitably to dirty water adventures.

more-dirtBreaking through thin ice sitting in the bottom of a basement excavation was my first introduction to the notion that nature had its dangerous side, and why adult people build shelters.  A pounding rain would make puddles and pools, then lakes; finally there would be rills, gullies and the like; the water would run .  I learned to make water run myself. At the first sign of spring thaw, I would be breaking through the ice dams so the water would run- an experiment with gravity and grade that would go on until I was too soaked and cold to keep tinkering with my routes.  Walking on frozen winter dirt made as good a sound as rubber boots lifting off spring mud. The frost coming out of the ground heaves it up, changing its shape and texture.  The sun drying it out left it cracked, and virtually impervious to re-soaking. Snow covers it up-what a relief to see dirt visible again after months of winter white. The wind turning heavy clods of dirt to clouds of dust is as much a natural wonder as water becoming ice, or ice subliming. I have a particularly clear memory of a very cold fall day, cleaning up a garden.  At lunch time, I forked out a hole just big enough for me in the compost pile.  My compost cave exuded a moist fierce heat-a perfect garden moment I have never forgotten.more-dirt1


dirtI have been a gardenmaker of one sort or another for what seems like a lifetime. I am quite sure my first effort to learn how to walk was an effort to get outside; this had not changed much in 58 years.  Once I did get outside, I stayed until I tracked it all back in with me like a beloved blanket.  Dirt I found very appealing, as its forms were infinitely varied as were its textures and smells. Though I later learned that dirt was a substance picked up by a vacuum cleaner, and soil is what one grows plants in, the word dirt has always sounded just right to me.  My first strong memory of dirt is the mounds of it excavated to make basements for the ranch houses being built in the subdivision where I grew up in the 1950’s. This dirt retained the teeth marks of the machines scooping it out of the earth.  Its colors were iridescent; the smell of wet metal, palpably radiating, was strong enough to make my eyes water.  As fascinating as the dirt was the hole left by its absence.dirt4


As my house was the first to be built on the block, I was able to watch over and over the digging, the moving around, the spreading out, the shaping, the hauling away.

dirt2This is all by way of saying I found the dirt and the dirt sites irresistible. Beyond the perimeter of grass surrounding my new house was an earth world, amusing and wildly entertaining as simple things are at that age.   I would climb the mountains of dirt, claim possession, and listen to the sunny silence.    A convenient board would give access to what would become a basement-a place of a silence of a wholly different sort.  Ones bones felt the air echo, and the cold seemed dangerous-would anyone look for me if I could not climb back out? The dirt seemed natural and right, as it was what was wholly mine. My love for dirt, earth, compost, soil-call it what you will-has been with me ever since.