I really wanted to write you a love story that wasn’t about dirt. I tried for days. I wanted to tell you a story about romance. Or beauty. I wanted to tell you about poetry, or wild horses, or freedom. Or something. Anything, really, except for this.
This isn’t new. A lot of my life I’ve been running away from loving dirt. You know that romantic comedy structure, don’t you? Esther runs away. Dirt pursues. Esther is standoffish and uninterested. Dirt pursues. Esther washes her hands a lot. Dirt doesn’t take the hint.
Okay, so it’s gardening, really, that I love so much. Not just dirt. But it’s not the clean, potted kind of gardening, either. I like soil life. I like microbes. I like things that ferment and bubble up and make rich smells. I like the messy mechanisms of real life.
So, put on your muck boots, y’all. Let me tell you a love story.
We’ve got water coursing now, on our mountain, right at the beginning of the melt. There’s water pooling up and making puddles. Water that’s rich with life and dark with swirling bits of dirt. Possibility. And terror. Water is life and also the end of life.
But it has a match, in the sun, cracking the ice on the pond right now. That’s the sun for you. It gets into everything. Little bits of sun are getting caught up all the time, in grass blades and leaves, in the trunks of trees. We burn it in the wood stove and the little bits of sun come back out. It’s love.
The ground is beginning to thaw now. The animals are ready—our chickens can’t wait—to scratch it up, and mix the air into the ground. Because if all these things stay separate that’s clean, but it’s not love. Not the muck boots kind of love, anyway.
Our soil preparation work is just about to begin, and that’s not only dirty, it’s cold. It’s dirty and cold and the best time I can think of for talking to God … especially about why it’s so cold and when the summer is coming and whether or not the sun is actually going to show up for real at all this year.
It always does, I know. But I never believe it for sure until I see it. I think, deep down, none of us do. We’re still like children, turning back to God, demanding proof.
I don’t know a better way to live the mess of this life than with my hands in the muck of it. The way decay mixes up with growth, how new things come out of old things falling apart, and how that process comes with some kind of wicked smells …? I don’t know another way to live that, but with my hands in dirt.
The way things freeze, totally and utterly to the point of death, and then at some unannounced moment they melt again, and it isn’t actually over after all …? I don’t know another way to believe that, but with my hands in dirt.
The truth is, I don’t know any other way to pray, but feeding animals, and making furrows for seeds, and growing bacteria in my kitchen. I don’t know any other way to pray without ceasing.
I don’t know any other way to confess my weaknesses, to admit my utter lack of faith in miracles like spring and sunrise, and still pray always, “Help my unbelief.” But to put my body hands first into the reality of a messy, messy world.
I’d rather tell you a story about romance. Silk dresses and wild horses … But none of it means anything to me without stars and sunlight, rivers and rocks. And none of that means anything to me without my hands in it.
So this is my love story. Elbow deep in the earth, and praying for rich harvest. Getting up close to all these tiny miracles. And trying to believe that the sun is really, always, coming back.