Down to Earth: Making Dirt


| December/January 1995


Sometimes I feel like a god—not the invincible, “able to move heaven and earth” kind of god, but just a minor creator inside my own fences. I’m the official Creator of Dirt for one tiny patch of garden on this Earth.

In the winter months, when not much is growing in the herb beds, I repair, replant, and replenish. My main job, though, is to continue making dirt. (Call it soil if you want, but in my realm I call it dirt.)

Sixteen years ago, when I first walked into the space that is now garden, I found rocks as large as tennis balls dotting the ground. Saplings as big around as my wrist grew like weeds. Old tools, cans, discarded garden hose, and roofing tin from the nearby barn were everywhere. Digging down 10 inches, I found hard, stubborn red clay. “How can I ever grow a garden here?” I asked a crow that watched me from the persimmon tree above the fence.

I gathered and hauled away the refuse, chopped down the weeds, and cut, dug, and pulled up the saplings. I hauled out countless wheelbarrows of rocks and wheeled in countless wheelbarrows of barnyard manure. I plowed, dug, and tilled, but years of neglect and misuse had left little fertility in the soil.

When I began growing herbs as part of the vegetable garden, I built my first raised bed. In doing so, I created a boundary between growing space and walking space. The new raised bed excluded everything that wasn’t part of it. It also left me with a pathway between the bed and the next growing area, which caused me to speculate whether I would ever feel good about having a piece of ground that was idle and unplowed.

The electric company had begun chipping tree trimmings and piling the chips in a dump in town. When I asked if I could haul them away—an unusual request in those days—those in charge eyed me curiously for wanting what they considered trash but said, “Sure, haul away as much as you like.”





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