Playing with Dirt: Productive Seeds for Teachers

Continuing my fall garden prep, I was out this morning on one of those Sweater Wearing Days that remind you of childwood walks in the woods and play in the dirt. I felt that energy of childhood surge in me – you know, that desire to be covered from head to toe in dirt!

You don’t get to do that much at school. In fact, you aren’t allowed to do that at school. In fact, most teachers regard dirt as an evil thing. That’s because schools are a feminist plot to destroy boyhood. Boys love dirt, and its not just because they’re disgusting animals. It’s because they have grown up to work in the dirt for many thousands of years. Genesis 1 tells us we were made to till the garden.

If indeed boys are supposed to get dirty and if indeed schools give them a bad attitude toward dirt, this is no light matter.

I’m a luddite, so I dug up the garden with a spade (what we rather loosely called a shovel where I grew up). Since the whole thing was covered in grass, it became burdensome enough to divide it over three weeks. Today I finished off the third of three 4X4 squares.

Last spring I wasn’t yet a Luddite, so I turned the soil with a gas rototiller. What a difference experience! Last year I had to get the machine working after lifting it into my van and driving it home. It took, if my memory serves, about an hour to thoroughly rototill the whole 10X4 rectangle. At first it was a pain because of all the brick houses that have melted into the soil around here, but then it rolled that soil like a bulldozer laying asphalt. When I was done I came to an appreciation of the power of that little machine.

This time I used the spade. It took a total of about 8 hours, including all the time spent whacking the clods against the deck and spade to free the grass roots and toss them in the will-be mulch heap (a question on that below) and tossing the sticks and telling Winky (our boxer, lab, chow) to fetch them. A blister has begun to form on my hands. I was quite pleased and a little smug about how nice the soil was this time compared to last spring (2006). When I was done I came to an appreciation of the soil.

I think I prefer the latter appreciation. If I were to start over in a new location, I would almost certainly rent a tiller for the first big plough. But after that, I would also use a spade. By using a spade and my hands, I gained a direct knowledge of the soil. I began to note how it behaves, where the best portions are and where are the sections that need more sand or loam, at least a few of the effects of water flow, etc. etc. All things that I would have had no need to know if I had used the rototiller, but all things that will help me be a better gardener in my little lot.

We love our technology. We love our efficiency. But we don’t always realize what it is costing us in the way of valuable knowledge. My goal was not to turn the soil as fast as possible. It was to prepare it and myself for a spring garden. It was to gain a living respect for the place of my garden, to better know and appreciate the actual specific facts that make up the life of my garden.

If I had overpowered it with the efficiency of the rototiller, all that would have been lost.

My question: are you supposed to keep grass out of your compost? Please advise.  

Seeing things Latin

I learn from Bill Neal in Gardener’s Latin that Clematideus means “with long climbing branches; like clematis” and I realize once again that the benefits of Latin cannot be enumerated. Across the page I learn that columbinus means, “like a dove; flowers shaped like a group of doves.” One cannot drive past a Columbine Street or see a Columbine sign or even hear the word columbine without being reminded of the sad free fall of our culture. How doubly ironic, how painful, to be reminded that the bird of peace was shot down on that day.

Latin enables us to see connections that would not otherwise be visible, not only in words but in the reality behind the words. So doing, it enables a depth of perception and thus a depth of feeling that can’t be provided as readily by any other language, especially not English. Latin brings the abstractions of English (what is a columbine?) back to many of their concrete roots, thus enabling the student of Latin to experience the once firm connection between the earth and the sky, between the concrete and the abstract, between philosophy and experience.

Latin enables a student to see the world with a poetic facility.