With every new growing season, I find myself having to relearn the delicate dance between force and balance. My first few heavy armfuls of soil, tools, and other items are met with a deep breath that I initially hold. Holding my breath in the Spring ties my spirit to the quiet death that unfolds every time a seed releases its incredible energy into its initial root. The reluctance the seed faces as it must evolve is the same cycle that besets my soul as I emerge from the dreamy winter state.
I am beckoned to expand from my warm hearth and comfortable chair into a world of chaos and disorder. The Spring season envelopes all that surrounds me in a quaking and seemingly unstoppable force. I hold my breath because I am nervous to hit the ground, to experience this life through the abundant lense of creation that is so entangled in pain and growth and regeneration. I hold fast to my old thoughts, afraid that the adaptation will be too much for my wavering spirit to take. The thawing of my bones into this new warmth and light feels vulnerable, breaking ground a ritual that holds in its very essence the sense of possibilities equally weighed out: will I succeed this year? Will the obstacles in my path lead me to failure?
It isn’t until the second breath that I remember what it is to grow. Remembering to breathe while I work, a muscle memory that unleashes my flexibility and mobility. I move once again with the forces of this natural world and our synchronized waltz paints the landscape in gardens and harmony of my own design. I flow from one obstacle to the next; like a root avoiding rocks in the mineral ridden soil. I evade this pressure and that and I breathe through the trauma of loss and grow from the friction of the change in direction. My path along this plane is full of opportunities for cooperation, organisms and rhythms laying themselves open for me to observe, to follow, to collaborate. The Planet’s diaphragm is swelling with life and I dance along this fine and eccentric line between Earth and Air.
This thin layer, this tiny boundary, holds the key to all as it transcends what we know as up and down. I watch the atmosphere incorporate into the soil. I breathe deeply, just as the earth breathes through the mouths and homes of all of the creatures that reside within her. I watch as the rain makes tea from the life that has eroded into organic material and I see this treasure tapped by the newly growing roots. My fingernails are constantly full of Earth and I wipe it across my brow; marking my ties to the horizontal forces that build the framework of plant and animal life in this world.
My first tan in Spring is made of soil. The humic compounds stick to my skin as I push through them, pull weeds and sow seeds; moving slugs and snails from their paths and crumbling up the palaces constructed from the creatures who do not seek the sun. They cannot take her assaulting rays; their eyes and ears more suited for the hollow, quilted sounds of inner worlds and cushioned vacuums. They move about their lives with little regard for the flight of birds or the exploration of the crown of the apex trees in the old growth forests.
Their purpose on Earth is clearly marked by their bodies; made only for the life of dampness and darkness. While they do not yearn to kiss the sun, they are however irreversibly tied to her life giving forces. As the Sun grows in hours, so too do the plants; their leaves and roots expanding out from their lengthening stems. As the roots dig into the soil, they begin to create a metropolis. A grounds for socializing and feeding, root exudation and mineral exchange creating a frenzy of bacteria and fungi reaping the rewards of the plant’s photosynthetic harmony to the Universal heartbeat; Sun as power source generating food and the nighttime rhythm of growth.
The heartbeat penetrates the soil and dictates the circulation potential of the ecosystem. Last week’s ant colony that collapsed after the heavy rain enters the bloodstream; small carcases floating within the deep and interwoven veins of dead roots and insect mines; protein being released into the feeding trough of the underworld. These nutrients make their way from root systems to humic storage containers, being used up or put away like a prepper preparing for the apocalypse; you don’t know when the rain is going to end, you can’t be sure that life will always be around as sacrifice to the altar of biodiversity. This constant circulation of rain water, nutrients, and organisms a mirror of the growth seen above the soil as the layers of life build on themselves and reach for the sky in the atmosphere. As above, so below.
The mycelium like tree branches amid a fawn colored sky. Expanding the capacity of the plant’s roots to reach out and make contact with the soil dwellers and harvesters of the fountain of minerals deep below the terrace of light and warmth. Birds do not land on these branches, songs are not shed from the lungs of this world; only the constant surging and receding; devour and release, the assimilation of material from one open causeway to another. This forest is dark and full and yet shares with this Earth a similar capacity for breath as found in the quaking leaves and summertime breeze.
I’ve bore witness to the fragile breathing of this Earth. As a mature Earthworm, nine years in the making, made reentry into the tubular halls of his realm; I’ve seen the soil suck the oxygen in behind him. The oxygen following the path of the Earthworm to his home, through his neighborhood and the out breath quietly releasing as he emerges for a taste of rotting oats. I’ve listened to the shallow breath of a completely compacted pasture. The stagnant, lifeless soil aggressively parted by the growing thistles, docks, and pigweeds. Each tap root, as it descends and parts and opens, releasing the soil from its suffocation. Each night time growth resulting in an inhale and exhale; amplifying in force as the plants grow together, bringing moisture back to the terrain, and protecting the land from unwanted footsteps and unwelcomed guests. Soon the soil dwellers return; soon the soil reclaims the ability to respire and the momentum of life overwhelms.
I’ve participated in the destruction of homes and passageways in the soil, carefully constructed by the inhabitants. My husband spends each Spring atop his tractor, dragging his metal teeth through the soil to open it up, to imitate the processes inherent in its intelligent design. Like a sculptor, he pushes his way through a field just as the moisture is such that the soil is lifted and suspended in the air, perfectly elevated to house seeds to be sown and plants to nest in the fluffy medium.
I’ve taken a digging fork and crumbled the walls of these microscopic temples. Devastating one colony of plants and organisms to encourage another and this dismantling is an inevitable forfeit that we must carry out season after season and yet must be constantly balanced with reclamation. If we take it too far, ignore the signs the soil sends us that it must rest, we begin to lose the vitality that our crops themselves rely on to feed and reproduce. There is no concentrated product on the shelf that can bring ecology back into the soil, only time and the steady accumulation of community; biodiverse microcosms where interaction and collaboration are the most sought after currency and quickest method for the development of whole system awareness.
Soils that are allowed to develop, allowed to diversify and integrate organisms and niches, are soils that are able to breathe. It is through this breath that our world is nourished, replenished, and made sentient. The more I have nurtured the breath in environments on my journey, the more this practice has been cultivated within my own awakening. I now know fully how my own lungs are but one part of the deep, synchronized breathing of this Earth.