One of the first things I did after arriving in this house was an exploration of the bookshelves. Outdoor life is very beautiful, but not complete without a book. To my satisfaction I found a decent collection of books in English. My favorite so far is The complete book of self-sufficiency by John Seymour.
This book from 1976 describes how you can grow your own food on a small plot of land. The author starts by explaining the natural food cycle. It starts in the soil, with bacteria that are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Via plants and animals, the nutrients come back into the soil. Seymour calls this the ‘Benign Circle’ with the soil as the basis of all life on earth.
Here at the farm we shovel horse dung from the meadows and collect it into large piles. The pine cones and daisies end up at the same place. Gradually, the soil under these piles transforms into beautiful black humus-rich soil. Last week we brought a wheelbarrow full of this soil, and I planted the new cilantro in it.
Every time I’m weeding in the garden, I am amazed by the amount of life that the soil produces. No wonder that since time immemorial people have been using the metaphor of a mother. In ancient Greek mythology, the mother goddess was called Gaia. Jules Cashford1 explains that the word “gaia” was the common Greek word for earth or soil. For the ancient Greeks, the two concepts were inseparable. This hymn from 500 BC. tells how Mother Earth nourishes all life:
Gaia, mother of all,
the oldest one, the foundation,
I shall sing to Earth.
She feeds everyone in the world.
Whoever you are,
whether you walk upon her sacred ground
or move through the paths of the sea
you who fly,
it is she who nourishes you
from her treasure-store.
Queen of Earth, through you
The harsh reality is that at the moment we are quickly depleting and poisoning the soil. According to the WWF2, half of the fertile topsoil has been lost to erosion in the last 150 years. The ingenious balance between soil, water and all life forms is no match for the current deforestation, monoculture and the extensive use of chemicals. The earth is not an external resource that can be replaced, but literally the ground under our feet. Without a mother to feed us, we are nowhere. The way forward is clear: getting out of the vicious circle of destruction and restoring the ‘Benign Circle’. Who is in?
1 Jules Cashford, Gaia & the Anima Mundi, In: Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee (editor), 2016. Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth
2 WWF, Soil erosion and degradation