Why I Love Dirt
By Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, MD
My father was born in a three-decker in the heart of Worcester, Massachusetts on Vernon Hill. He and my mother married in the late 50’s and moved to the suburbs. I grew up in a little ranch on nearly an acre of land. My dad gardened about a third of it. I remember the family joy of thinning the carrots and pinching the sucker leaves from the tomatoes, getting that fresh vine smell on my fingers, getting dirt under my nails.
There was a swath of field, frog pond, and forest in our neighborhood. I was free to roam with friends or alone. I learned from a young age that nature was always there for me. People may disappoint at times, but crickets chirped on, bees buzzed away, the sun shone on everyone.
In the angst of teenage existentialism, I recall vividly the horrific realization: “We took a wrong turn when we stopped living with Nature and decided to conquer Nature.”
As I became an adult living mainly in cities, I still found away to follow the genetic drive to plant tomatoes and basil each spring. I’ll never forget my twentysomething upstairs apartment in Somerville. The first floor landlord, Joe, and his wife had moved out from the North End. They spoke as much Italian at home as they did English. The postage stamp yard yielded my crop. Joe held the aromatic bouquet of harvested basil in his hands like the Holy Grail.
When my son Zak was 4, we had several corn rows in our suburban backyard that we hadn’t tilled over in the fall. Spring monsoons came creating small rivers of mud in the furrows. Zak asked me politely as he stared longingly at the mud, “Mom, can I roll in it?”
Oh the joy of dirt! The feel of it, the smell of it, tucking it lovingly around spring seedlings, putting perennials to their winter beds in it.
I continue to dabble in Western style organic gardening and relish the “dirt” time. I love picking fresh herbs from my flower bed and putting them right into dinner. I understand that the current permaculture movement reinforces my teenaged lament. The global permaculture movement is steering how we think about farming and food back to harmony with Nature, local systems that are simple and self sustaining. I look forward to understanding and applying permaculture idealogy to my kitchen garden. It will be full circle to me.