Deep Soil for Life

Don’t choose a path—choose travelling companions.

— Uzbek proverb

photo: Annie Spratt

The Solo System has grown from a troublesome experience, a so-called  ‘Kachina’. I chose to accept it, and it took on a life of its own. By now it has turned into an awe inspiring series of books, and it is continuously growing.

Nobody chooses a Kachina  as a travelling companion. They choose us. They challenge us to discover personal resources we never knew we had.

Kachinas are known in Hopi culture as ‘awkward travelling companions’ — they can be an unpleasant person or an uncomfortable experience. They jump into your path and throw you off balance.

If we know how to handle them and use their information in a constructive way, then they become catalysts for inner growth.

Something of that kind happened again more recently.

photo: João Alves

On the 15th of October 2017 a terrible firestorm swept through Portugal. It was around 9 p.m. on Sunday evening when it arrived in our village. We had just finished our dinner, when we saw a wall of flames, about 30 metres high, coming towards us at a fast pace.

When we saw the fire it was already too late to evacuate. Within minutes we were surrounded by flames from all sides. Burning embers were raining from the sky. We were caught in a ring of fire — most definitely, nobody would choose such a terrifying Kachina!

We were very lucky that night. The electricity had gone off and we had no running water, but we had buckets and a plunge pool. So we could scoop water out of the pool and put out small fires all around the house. We managed to save the buildings and most of our garden from the voracious blaze.

Others were less fortunate.

Our neighbour, the shepherd, lost all his animals. Many friends, neighbours and acquaintances lost their home, land, belongings, tools, livelihoods. Everyone was in shock.

The firestorm devastated large areas of woodland and farms all around. Then the autumn rains came. The thin layer of soil, bone-dry after a long summer, got washed down the slopes.

Having started some research into humus and composting a few months earlier — with the intention to improve my gardening skills and grow an edible landscape — it seemed no longer appropriate to limit my new venture to our private vegetable patch. The project was begging to become a ‘mission to save the Portuguese soil’.

HUMUS, the black gold of the Earth was written in response to this calling.

Lives changed through the fire. Many people showed their compassionate and collaborative sides. The inferno had created a common experience and a shared need to support each other through difficult times.

Humus is generated through collaboration of billions of soil creatures. After the firestorm it became clear that the regeneration of our soils is not something we generously do to ‘save the earth from extinction’. Quite the opposite actually.

Maybe the earth can save us from destroying ourselves. Humus can teach us collaboration, mutual respect and support, including respect and support of parts of ourselves which are readily dismissed as inferior.

photo: Marcin Czerwinski

To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Humus knows how to regenerate itself. We are only midwives at best. We can speed up the process and adapt it to human time.

The main teaching of humus is about the creation of deep soil for life — in more than one sense. It includes the inner soil.

Anyone who observes the regeneration of humus is invited to become an Earthkeeper. While we think we are the ones regenerating the soil, humus helps us to develop an intimate relationship with the earth. Humus has the power to regenerate us and our communities.

Veronika Bond
author of The Solo System and HUMUS: the black gold of the earth

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