This Spring I looked at our ailing peach tree and decided on drastic action. The branches had become so long and spindly that two of them broke under the weight of fruit last year. It was oddly shaped and hard to net against marauding birds. I decided to take the chainsaw and bull-horn it. Karisse was appalled. “You killed it,” she said. It turned out she was right. Nothing sprang from the tips of the branches, and over the summer it became the stark residue of hard decisions.
Last week Karisse came home and said, “I bought a peach tree. It needs a hole 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep.” I figured it was time to root out the stark residue and plant new beginnings in its place. With a lot of grubbing and some hauling with a strap and my truck, the fading rootstock of the old tree bade farewell of its rootedness. There was still life in it, but we could see that it was dying as trees live—slowly. I have to admit to an inner pang of loss. Then the work began: chopping out roots, digging in hard soil, trying to enlarge the hole the old tree had left. My muscles sang and then lamented. My mind got frustrated with the slow progress. I now have a well dug 3 feet across and only 2 feet deep, but it feels like I’ve dug to China and back. This evening I’ll finish it up.
What of death and dirt? Anthony Bloom says that the word “humility” comes from the same root as “humus.” Humus is rich earth, that has swallowed up our refuse and turned it into fertilizer. Humility is the result of rooting out the residue of past decisions, well-made or otherwise, and converting the refuse to fertilizer. It involves making space in the middle of the earth for new life. Dirt is a doorway from the death of the past to the possibilities of the future, the common ground of us all from which we spring and to which we return.
Dirt is holy when it swallows death and makes fertilizer.