Once again its spring and I’m getting my front garden ready for planting. It’s not a big patch, but I always like to take the time to make something unique and unusual out of it; something unexpected. But even the simplest of changes requires some hours of work turning over dirt, removing weeds and getting the patch ready for the seeds or bulbs or plantings that I’m going to add.
The earthworms are out! I giggle quietly as I turn over a large chunk of dirt and expose the roots of the grass to the sun and turn half a dozen of them out of their homes. There is even one on my shovel! The worm on my hand spade quickly wriggles off and burrows back into the dirt, anxious to be out of the direct sunlight.
Even more amazing to me than the worms (And why is it that worms seem to hate direct sunlight so, anyway, are they really vampires in disguise? Does the sun dry them out too fast? Are they afraid of robins?) is the complex world that I find just below the surface of the earth.
Think about it. We tend to take what we see in our world for granted. Even in pastoral settings (come to think of it particularly in pastoral settings) the grass, the trees, the flowers – they all tend to mix together into an impression of “countryside” or “garden” and as lovely as any one scene is to the eye, how often do we really think about just how much is going on just out of our sight?
I still remember a child’s book that I stumbled across once that showed cross sections of a city street; everything that was beneath a city street’s paved surface. It showed the layers of the road itself (packed dirt and gravel and pavement) as well as water pipes, sewer pipes, drainage systems, electrical work. I stood there, amazed, flipping through the brightly colored pictures and thinking “who would have thought?” I mean, I always knew that they were there – those layers – but I never really thought about it.
But as complex and layered as a man made city street may be the world beneath the level of an acre of countryside is ten times more amazing to me for one very important reason; it’s alive!
All of it is alive. The roots of the grass, the roots of the trees, the roots of those damned pesky weeds, and man do those have some amazingly complex root systems! But it isn’t just the roots, it’s what lives within the roots; the wriggling earthworms and the ants and the burrowing mice, the moles, the rabbits, the chipmunks (did you know that chipmunks build underground nests?) the bees. Yeah, I found out about the bees the hard way; stepping into an underground nest when I went to clip my hedge a couple of years back. It wasn’t pleasant.
But it goes far deeper than the roots and the nests and the burrows. Dig down deeper and you’ll find underground rivers and reservoirs that feed the roots of all the growing things. Dig even deeper and you will find the coal and the oil that we use to heat our homes and run our vehicles; the iron ore on which so much of our industry is based; the gold and silver and gems that so many people hold in such high regard.
It’s very much like our lives, isn’t it; like reality in general if you think about it. So often we get caught up in the pretty packaging; in the colorful flowering things and the way the greens contrast against each other, when all the time everything that makes this color fest possible is actively getting on with its business right below our feet; a whole world that we tend to not even think about.
How many times a day do we stop to actually pay attention to the thoughts that are generating our actions? How many times a day do we actively consider why we are saying what we are saying and doing what we are doing? How many times a day do we voluntarily and consciously touch that deep inner core from which our true strength and beauty comes and express our gratitude for everything that makes us who we are?
Does it make us better people – to pay attention to our inner workings and the source of our strength? Of course not; we are still exactly who we were before; exactly who we are when we are not paying attention. The only difference is that when we are paying attention; when we allow ourselves to be consciously aware of those multitudes of layers; those complexities that make us who we are; we open ourselves to a depth of reality that can lend richness to our lives that most people lack.
In fact, most people go through their lives feeling as if there is something missing; something that they can’t quite put a finger on; something that should be there; something that they should be aware of. Just like the active world beneath our feet, everything they are looking for is just under the surface – if only they would take the time to get their hands dirty and do a little digging…
I sit back on my heels and grin as the earthworm wriggles frantically off of my spade and dives for cover in the cool, smooth earth. He’s desperate to get below the surface of things; down to where things cease to simply look pretty and start to get real in earnest. Can I blame him? Maybe I can join him. Maybe we all can.