Of all the many factors on planet Earth that enable us to live and thrive, there are two which border, in my opinion, on the miraculous*: the conversion of sunlight into sugar through photosynthesis, and the mysterious alchemy of microbes and nutrients and water that makes dirt into the life-giver to us all.
Yet we take dirt for granted—even denigrate it.
It’s “dirty”, after all.
We walk on dirt; we scrape it off our shoes and sweep it from our houses and porches. It’s gray, or brown, or yellow, or red, but generally not the popping, pleasing colors we are hard-wired to find breathtaking, like sunsets or flowers or bodies of water. It’s so easy to forget that it is down there, weaving Life from not-Life in every second, breathing oxygen, fostering plant growth so we may eat and breathe and marvel at the magnificence of all the plant kingdom arrayed before us.
It turns out, in fact, that exposure to soil bacteria increases serotonin in the brain, reducing incidence of depression. There is a reason why people find gardening therapeutic!
Having a robust relationship with dirt is a good thing for Atheopagans. Watching seeds sprout and become plants is a reminder of the miraculous nature of life on Earth, the extraordinary story of tiny packets of DNA which draw lifeless material from around themselves to assemble gigantic structures, sometimes billions of times larger than they were when they started. And those structures bring forth food for us, material for building our shelters, and mighty forests that inspire us with their beauty and mysterious depths, that house and support entire ecosystems of incredible creatures.
Bear in mind, too, that exposure to ordinary dirt helps young people to develop their immune systems, and appears to reduce adult incidence of conditions like allergies and asthma. Please: don’t use bactericidal soaps and cleansers–they just help to breed “superbugs” that are resistant to them, and reduce this healthy effect on developing children. Ordinary soap and water for hand washing are more than adequate, and are far better for our own health and that of our environment.
Healthy soil absorbs carbon, too, reducing the impact of global climate change. There are six billion microorganisms per tablespoon of soil, and nearly all of them consume carbon dioxide to live. They produce minerals that support plant life as they metabolize this carbon.
So plant some seeds for spring time for your window sill, or a planter or two, or an entire garden if you have the space. Having our hands in dirt is a way to remember that we are all composed of these miraculous minerals, microbes and nutrients, and they serve us every day.
It is the miracle of Sun on Earth that sustains us.
Praise be to dirt!
*By which I mean that even though we understand how they work, they seem utterly marvelous.