Friday, February 24, 2006

The abiding earth

It's funny how ideas come at you in coincidental bunches, like learning a new word and then hearing it three more times in three completely unrelated contexts over the course of a few days. This happened to me this week with soil and what it means, and how I'm closely related to it, but not as closely as I all-too-soon will be.

Sometime early Tuesday morning while stocking shelves at Jewel I imagined myself sinking through the floor, down into the earth, dirt and strata at my face, pebbles in my eyes, the smell of black, loamy soil, worms crawling, root tendrils in my nostrils. I thought it my way of escape from the artificial, fluorescent-lit environment of the supermarket aisles. For some reason this image of earth, underlying, abiding, hidden, covered earth, stuck in my head the rest of the day.

I thought about my own disconnect from the soil, and how much I love the smell of the freshly-turned dirt on a warm spring day, and how the longer days will lead to warmer temperatures, the thawing of the earth, the release of dormant creatures from their own earthen slumbers. And I thought about my own disconnect from the earth. When was the last time I felt the earth beneath my feet? I have not allowed my bare feet to touch soil since the fall, and maybe not even since summer.

On Wednesday I substitute taught for a 10th grade English class and read a poem, "Thanatopsis," by William Cullen Bryant, that made me think about this image I had of sinking into the earth.

A few lines:
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom.

Today I read a chapter about caves in Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World by Linda Hogan. She says caves are feminine, womb-like, and have the power to give visions and inspiration to those who dwell in them.

"We are welcome here. I love this inner earth, its murmuring heartbeat, the language of what will consume us. Above is the beautiful earth that we have come from. Below is heat, stone, fire. I am within the healing of nature, held in earth's hand."

I remember once, long ago, at a party, I was profoundly high, laying on the floor, and had this horrible feeling of sinking into the floor, sinking and at the same time spreading thin and dissipating. At first I was terrified. I got up and slapped myself in the face to get all together again. That feeling of sinking into the landscape returned later, on a hike, brought on not by smoke, but from extreme fatique from exercise. This time, maybe because it was natural and not artificially-induced, and maybe because I was outside, I welcomed this sinking, spreading feeling. I fell asleep with this image in my mind of being flattened like a pancake, like a cartoon character run over by a steamroller.

Is this what dying is like? Is this what happens when you return to the soil from whence you came? In the absence of belief in an afterlife, I seek a physiological conclusion, and this seems as logical as any explanation. Yes, the elements of me -- we -- returns to soil, Dust to dust. Does consciousness return as well? I'd like to believe so.

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