16th century polymath Leonardo da Vinci observed, “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.”
That da Vinci recognized our existential blindspot five hundred years ago is remarkable given scientists now warn us that Earth’s soil is disappearing at a greater rate than it can be replenished.
A cloak of loose, soft material, held to the earth’s hard surface by gravity, is all that lies between life and lifelessness. ― Wallace H. Fuller
The word human arrived into the English-speaking lexicon from the Latin humus which translates to earth and ground.
The modern word humus describes organic material resulting from the biodegradation of plants and animals that are transformed into fertile soil. Plants drop leaves, seeds, twigs, and other materials to the ground which, over time, decay into rich, dark humus that becomes topsoil.
The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.
― Wendell Berry
The United Nations designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils. The UN cautions that more than a third of Earth’s soil is at risk.
Wallace Fuller’s cloak of organic material ― all that lies between life and lifelessness ― is undergoing rapid loss or degradation because of water erosion, wind erosion, pollution, acidification and nutrient depletion.
We might say that the earth has the spirit of growth; that its flesh is the soil.
― Leonardo da Vinci
Humility is from humus,
We are pinholes of light
delayed by nothing and
like the tiny sounds
of before and after
- Earth Could Lose a Third of Its Topsoil, by Patrick J. Kiger, Discovery, 15 October 2015.
- Humility, by Bob MacNeal, Buckets of Wisdom, 8 June 2013, Saint Paul.
- Soils of the Desert Southwest, by Wallace H. Fuller, University of Arizona Press, 1975.
- Spotlighting humanity’s ‘silent ally,’ UN launches 2015 International Year of Soils, UN News Centre, 5 December 2014.
- The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, by Wendell Berry, Counterpoint 2004.
Originally published at essays.grokearth.com on November 28, 2015.