These were no ordinary carrots. They were the size of cantaloupes. It is said you need the right tool for the right job. A backhoe would have been more appropriate than a shovel. But we got them out of the ground, their orange fingers holding tight to the soil. Many walked away with sore backs, dirt stuffed under fingernails. We came, we toiled, and we harvested carrots.
All in all it was 390 kilograms (859.8 pounds). Much of that will be made into juice. There's a pretty penny (or in this case a useful yen) to be made in the organic carrot juice market. All the same, we were just happy to have a warm fall sun on our backs with our hands in the dirt, commenting on each carrot like old men tellin' fishin' stories.
In this field in Japan I remembered my grandma's garden at the lake in North Dakota where, if the deer hadn't gotten there first, I ate piles of carrots straight from the ground with only a brush or two on my jeans to clean them. I remembered too my grandpa and grandma in South Dakota. Grandma keeps a fruitful garden and grandpa keeps the rabbits and other hungry critters away with some good aim. Teamwork at its best.
This fall I've been working in the soil every day and I keep wondering, 'What is this stuff?' This dirt, this earth, this ground, sometimes mud, sometimes dust. This soil is productive, bringing forth life, accommodating roots and tubers, anchoring neck-ache tall cedars, protecting seed from ravenous crows. We move it around with shovels, trowels, skid-steers, graders, tillers, vacuums, hands. We wash it off our boots, draw explanatory diagrams in it, and sweep it out of garages. We enrich it with dead stuff (compost) and manure. From soil come wildly disparate edibles: mushroom, kiwi, durum, coffee. A pig will root in the soil for his vitamins and minerals. A child will make mud pies from it.
In the soil is where we lay our dead to rest and in the soil is where the nourishment of our lives begins. Perhaps that's what Genesis 3:19 is about: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Caskets and carrots, death and life. I suppose that is what the soil is for.
Wendell Berry describes the characteristics of soil in a Christological way:
“The most exemplary nature is that of the topsoil. It is very Christ-like in its passivity and beneficence, and in the penetrating energy that issues out of its peaceableness. It increases by experience, by the passage of seasons over it, growth rising out of it and returning to it, not by ambition or aggressiveness. It is enriched by all things that die and enter into it. It keeps the past, not as history or as memory, but as richness, new possibility. Its fertility is always building up out of death into promise. Death is the bridge or the tunnel by which its past enters its future.” –from “The Long-Legged House”
Some might say, 'dirt is just dirt,' and I suppose that's right. Dirt is most certainly dirt. But this soil we walk around on and receive our food from is also miraculous stuff in its simplicity and in its complexity. If nothing else, soil produces carrots, sweet and hearty. That's plenty for me.