A SOFT WHISPER
I don't want to lose the soil. This morning I took a hand full of soil from our communal garden and put it in the pocket of my coat. And while I walked to the tram stop, I kept my left hand in my left pocket and shielded the soil from whatever was out there. It hadn't been raining for days, so the soil was quite dry. A soft rustling of its crumbs against the lining fabric. I wondered if a dusty spot would appear on the outside of my coat.
My fingers did not only shield the soil, they also started to sense it. Without touching, I sensed its being, I sensed its mass. I sensed its dark colour. I felt the possibilites of its future and I felt its experiences of the past. Slowly, I stretched my index finger, so the soil and finger would meet. Hi. How is your day so far? Do you have any plans for the evening? What's your favourite plant?
Once I arrived at the tram stop, it took two minutes at most for the tram to show up. I was the only one entering the tram, in which two people were already seated. I sat down on a chair in the front of the tram, next to the window. I just moved to this city, so I'm not very familiar with the neighbourhood yet. I like looking out of the window, searching for things that I hadn't noticed before. Details in a housing complex, supermarkets, secondhand shops, cats. However, the only thing I see today is soil. The soil surrounding the trees on the pavements, the soil in some buildings' small gardens, the soil between the tiles. Also, I see soil which I cannot see. Sous les pavés, la plage.
Whatever was out there: The air, polluted by the neighbouring harbour area. The light, which never dims. The plastic, which was everywhere due to the broken underground garbage bins. The muncipality, who instead of fixing the garbage bins, drove the poorer people out of this district. The people, polluted by populists and bad education. Disconnected from their environment and disconnected from their neighbours. For their neighbours were the ones recplacing them, or they were the ones who did not really belong here.
I got off the tram and took the escalator to the metro station. My left hand still in my left pocket. At this time, all of my fingers had made acquaintance with the soil. On the inside of my coat, a small dance had taken place. Soil in between my index finger and middle finger. Soil on the side of my thumb. My little finger underneath the soil. Soil underneath the palm of my hand. The metro station was build next to a busy junction. I walked towards the part where you could watch the traffic, the road underneath you. I took my left hand out of my left pocket and had a look at it. Some of the soil had succeeded in hiding underneath my fingernails. I held my hand in front of me, slowly moved my fingers and turned the whole thing. The soil decided to join the movement and stayed in its place. Cars drove by and people on bikes crossed the road. Traffic lights turned green, orange, red.
The closer I got to the city centre, the more self-counsiouss I became about the soil in my coat. Maybe it had something to do with the idea that I probably was the only one amidst this crowd carrying something like this with me (perhaps a kid with a twig). Or maybe it was more about the fact that there wasn't so much soil around there to be found. My left hand in my left pocket. Again.
Masanobu Fukuoka was a Japanese farmer and philosopher who realized that instead of wondering what he should do or should add to make his crops grow better, he should start wondering what he shouldn't do or shouldn't add. He found out that a healthy soil, doesn't need any tilling. It doesn't need any fertilizers and it doesn't need too much weeding. Soil doesn't need any herbicides and pesticides either. Rice fields don't need to be flooded. Fruit trees don't need to be pruned. The other-than human has an intelligence of its own. When working with nature, we need to participate from the inside instead of from the outside. Maybe our communal garden isn't a garden owned by our community. Maybe the garden is part of our community.
It started to rain. Not too heavy, wouldn't have called it a shower. Just tiny specks of water slowly falling down. I gathered the soil from the inside of my pocket and presented the small assemblage to its surroudings. Rain falling unto the soil on my hand. I took a deep breath in through my nose.
Petrichor is what we call the smell which is produced when rains falls on dry land. It's distinctive smell is earthy, fresh and sweet. When rain falls on a porous surface, small bubbles are formed in the soil, which then float to the surface. There it releases aerosols, which carry the scent. The substance responsible for this smell is geosmin. Geosmin is an organic compound which is made by micro-organisms, particularly the streptomyces family of bacteria that live in soil. Geosmin is what gives the beetroot it's earthy taste. The human nose is very sensitive to the smell of geosmin. It is able to detect it at a concentration as low as 5 parts per trillion.
The rain. I slowly spread my fingers and let the rain wash the soil from my hand. The soil gradually dispersed onto the ground. Its smell released among the buildings' greys and glass. Tiny particles floating through the air. Tiny particles slipping inside through the sliding doors. Tiny particles floating among the people shopping for new clothes, getting a coffee or doing this weekends' groceries. Up their nose, tiny particles. A soft whisper.
Numurous studies show us that the collapse and decline of multipal big civilizations, such like the Greek, the Roman, Mesopotamian and the Mayan, had a lot to do with soil degradation. As the population grew, the Greek increased crop production, exhausted the soil and abetted soil erosion. While they still had their colonies, they could grow enough food on the land over there. But once they lost them, Greek civilization fastly declined. The Mayans in the Copán Valley cut their forest covering the hills, and soil erosion, next to population growth and war, led to their collapse.
In 2014, Maria-Helena Semedo, a senior UN official, stated that with current rates of degradation, all the world top soil could be gone in 60 years. That's 60 times of harvesting left.