Land Such As That


Eastern North Carolina Farmland, 2015

Traveling in eastern North Carolina with Farm Aid, it's easy enough to notice the soil down here near Tarboro is unlike ours in the mountain west of the state. On North Carolina's coastal plain, the dirt is rich and deep and loamy, teeming with nutrients, both present-day and millennia old. It's not unusual to find bits of seashells or even maritime fossils from a time when the ocean covered the whole region. Fields are big and flat enough to lay a level to them. One farmer we visited asked me, “Do you have many rocks up your way?”

“Rocks,” I answered. “That’s what we grow best in the mountains. Rocks. You can plow a field in an hour or two and then spend half a day hauling rocks to the edge of it. Disc it the next day, get a little rain on it, and you’ve got a whole new crop, without adding any fertilizer.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do with land such as that,” he said.


Our Dirt


Dirt in our Garden with Potato Plant Shadows, PawPaw, 2014

I love our dirt.
I love most everything about it.
The things you might expect – its smell and texture.
Its touch and the way it sifts through my fingers,
     staining them as the soil itself, a reminder.

I’ve had to learn to love our dirt.
It’s not intuitive with me, like it is Leslie.
As a child, cleanliness was valued, dirt avoided.
Hands and nails checked for telltale signs,
     washing more of a religion than an actual need.

It took moving here, to the mountains,
to rid the aversion from my life.
Gardening and working tobacco changed that.
Animals, and firewood, and just plain digging.
Now, dirt is everyday, and usual.

I love it under my nails.
How it turns the tips dark.
If you suck on those tips, you taste it.
Grit on your teeth, going down in a smooth swallow.
A cocktail of sorts.

Our dirt is clean.
No chemicals for twenty-five years.
Manure, compost, cover crops, leaves in the fall.
It’s rich. You dig in to a feast of life –
     worms a plenty, worms galore.

Garlic in our Garden, PawPaw, 2014.

We grow a small garden now,
we used to grow much more.
To eat food grown in soil you’ve nurtured is
     one of life’s true gifts.
I think, “Fresh spinach in the early spring.”

I read about children today,
not knowing where their food comes from,
like me when I was young, but more so.
It’s sad to be without dirt, to lack intimacy with it,
to not know the primacy of its role.

And the bacteria and germs, the stuff that lives in dirt -     now they’re saying all that stuff is good for you.
It  builds resistance to disease.
Dirt makes us stronger, they say.
I hear my mother, “I don’t believe a word of it.”