|The Dirty Business of Dirt|
Dirt is, in many eyes, nothing more than the disreputable home of disease. After all, our old friends tetanus, E. coli, hookworm, and numerous other bacteria and parasites reside in dirt. Thus we have learned to view dirt with scorn, or at the very least with a certain degree of apathy. Dirt on our clothes is a most lamentable occurrence, requiring a hearty helping of bleach in conjunction with hours of toil and labor in the laundry room. In our eyes, dirt is generally more trouble than it’s worth.
I have spent the last six months working as a volunteer at QERC. More specifically, I have spent much of my time maintaining a plant nursery for local reforestation efforts. I have—through my self-directed crash course in botany—developed a deep appreciation for the plants in this valley; aguacatillo, guayabillo, zorillo, achiotillo, and jocotillo: these have been a few of my close companions lately. I have learned their names, their specific needs, and their unique roles in the elaborate ecology of this valley. Needless to say, my appreciation for these plants extends beyond mere aesthetics. However, and perhaps more importantly, I have also developed a deep appreciation for the dirt in which these plants thrive.
Before coming to QERC dirt was just dirt, but now I see it as so much more. Dirt makes the world go round. The very bottom of most food chains, the realm of roots and rotting, it is God’s magnificent mixture. It strikes me as terribly ironic that we all depend so tremendously on dirt; this substance we avoid and neglect.
My time at QERC has been joyous and educational. I have been blessed with numerous friendships and meaningful relationships. Little did I know, however, that one of those relationships would be with dirt. I recently realized the importance of this relationship as David and I coordinated a group tree planting at a local Christian campground. We looked on as children stabbed their shovels into the ground with gusto, creating new homes for my beloved trees. Their hands turned shades of brown as they gently placed young Nectandra and Ocotea saplings in the earth—patting them lightly in their place. Dirt under their nails, these children are now more connected to the world around them. They have, as Wendell Berry puts it, “put [their] faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years.”
I too have learned to put my faith in dirt. I now thrust my hands into compost and soil, feel the warmth of the world’s bloodstream, and acknowledge God’s infinite wisdom and intelligent design. Indeed, nothing gratifies me more than watching the sink run a deep brown after a day in the vivero—my hands drip evidence of my intimate connection to reforestation, to renewal, to God’s magnificent mixture.
Official weblog for the researchers, students, faculty and friends of QERC - The Quetzal Education Research Center