The segment of the soil which creates this telltale texture is called ‘humus’, and despite its contribution to the tactile-ness signalled by its existence, it’s shapeless. Without any scientific knowledge of soil at all, you can spot humus’ assassination when instead of chocolate cake beneath your feet, you find parched dirt in its place.
‘Humans’ and ‘Humus’ share the same etymology of being ‘from and for the earth’, their roots intertwined with ‘Humble’, which is how one feels when these tales of reciprocity from the kingdom below, surface.
The existence of humus in the ground is one of our main aides us in reversing climate breakdown, as it stores the overpopulation of carbon we’ve pumped into the atmosphere, converting it into topsoil (the part of soil we grow our food in). Humus also offers resilience against drought and flooding, storing 80-90% of its weight in moisture like a reservoir, so life above and below the ground can thrive and survive.
Like most mothers, humus is incredibly resilient, but current conventional agricultural practices weaken it. When weakened or killed, its benevolence is blocked from continuing, and without it, no life can survive on this planet.
Soil lacking in humus contributes to global heating instead of reversing it. When tilled, left bare of plant life to cool and shade it, it scorches in the sun as any of us would. When drenched with chemicals, it becomes sick and cannot function. Without compost, humus is left to starve and quickly dies off.
As it passes away the carbon it was sequestering, which offered a future of food to all life on earth, escapes and rises into our atmosphere. Then when it rains, without humus to hold it, the water runs off silting and flooding our waterways. Without stored moisture, the soil turns to dirt and is devastated by drought, marking it infertile. Without fertility, the earth cannot support life.
This is a humbling reality that science – in ‘verifying’ Indigenous Peoples Knowledge – is just beginning to come to know. Reminding us that though we might like to think we’ve got it all figured out, in truth, we hardly understand the ground we stand on.
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