Dirt and Life

Thanks to recommendations from two friends, I have been enjoying the writings of Barry Lopez and William Bryant Logan. North Carolina poet Kay Byer, after hearing about the ecological framework of Red Clay, Blood River, suggested I read Lopez’s collection, Vintage Lopez.

I then went on to his About This Life, a collection of essays. (Astoundingly, he and I lived in the same apartment building in Mamaroneck, NY, in 1945!) Lopez is a “deep ecologist” living in western Oregon, who lives into a natural world of which we humans are only a part.

In Lopez’s nature we do not find a surge toward some culminating Eden of human harmony with the environment. On the other hand, the natural exists in a marvelous beauty and re-creative struggle that has its own integrity. Our own human struggles to bend natural forces to our desires are just a small part of nature’s drama.

If he were a theist (and I’m not sure about his inclinations here), he could say, with Calvin, I suppose, it is beautiful to God, even though we can only taste and peek dimly at this beauty. Mindful immersion in our world leads to awe. It leads to a sense of restraint and openness toward the world around and within us.

Logan’s book, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, was recommended to me by Larry Rasmussen, a fellow ethicist now living in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Dirt, written while Logan was a writer in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, presents the science of soils to a lay audience in a way that opens our eyes to the miracle of life’s sustenance on this planet.

Logan is ready to leap from the science to its possible theological meanings and resonances, making his reflections a kind of meditation on the spiritual meaning of earth. While his earth does not have a voice, it vibrates with harmonies our ears can only partially pick up. Knowing the dirt’s ways is the partner to knowing those of the mysterious divine source and end of existence itself.

I don’t know why these two authors have escaped me till now, but I am in debt to my friends for leading me to them and to the stimulating perspectives that recommend them to anyone who cares about this earth.

1 thought on “Dirt and Life”

  1. Bill, I’m so glad you like Lopez, and you are right on target in your post about him. It makes me want to go back and read his work all over again. Thank you for introducing me to Logan; I’ll be going to his work, too. This cross-fertilization is what a reading and writing community is all about. K.

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