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Old as Dirt

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Gaia’s Thermals, Watercolor, 12×16

Geologically speaking,Iceland is a pretty young bump on Mother Earth’s body. If the Appalachians make it seem like she may be sagging here and there, Iceland is the fiery reminder that she still has plenty to show and tell.

Coming from a rural, heavily forested area in the United States where so much of our lives are intertwined with nature and weather, we quickly felt a kinship with the Icelanders who demonstrated a keen appreciation for Mother Earths power. They rely on her heat for energy and warmth. As we try to do at home, they also work to protect the more fragile aspects of their corner of the world.
Heavily deforested in previous centuries, Iceland is now being reforested in an effort to rebuild soil and to prevent erosion of newly forming soil in volcanic areas. Conversations with tour guides and strangers gave us a new respect for how easily this resource can disappear.
It was pure coincidence that, as we were learning about their volatile landscape, news of the pipeline protests at Standing Rock, ND found its across the Atlantic. It was impossible not to think about the parallels between the water protectors (whom I support) struggling to preserve their basic, essential resources and their sacred burial sites, and the descendants of the Vikings who are now working to restore their soil and forest.
The Big Guy articulated both or feelings perfectly as we visited a few geothermal areas – some just recovering with human help from one of Mother Nature’s more recent tirades over 150 years ago. But where I saw the moss that had started to form on some of the more porous stone’s and the vegetation that has been established, he looked deeper. He saw the dusting of soil that was forming from the ash and from the composting ground cover.
“I really never had a real appreciation for how long it takes soil to form,” he said at one point. And until that moment neither had I.
As a gardener, nothing gets me more excited than beautiful, dark dirt. It’s black gold – better than the yellow stuff that couldn’t grow weeds if you tried. But the making and composting of soil is something I do take for granted. We make it all summer from kitchen scraps, dead leaves, yard clippings, and cast off coffee grounds. The following spring we get beautiful, rich dirt. And even with our diligence, I never doubt that this will happen and happen quickly enough to be useful.

But the Big Guy’s comment gave me a new appreciation for how little we do consider how fragile this vital element is. I couldn’t help but stop and think about how long it would take to replace or restore a depleted aquifer or poison river and if the protesters at Standing Rock aren’t also – intentionally or not – trying to help save us from ourselves.

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