Up from Bedrock

Wendy Johnson digs into the mysterious life of soil.

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IN AUTUMN, when the wide lap of the land is littered with overripe pippin apples and bone-dry cornstalks rattle in the churlish wind, my mind drops down to bedrock and the significant life of soil. There is no better time to cultivate the ground than in the equinoctial seasons, when light and dark dance cheek to cheek and September rain softens the ground. “You open the earth to starlight,” my garden teacher Alan Chadwick often reminded us when he spoke about cultivating the garden, “and induce a capacity for breath in the soil.”

The word soil has deep etymological roots. It derives from the Latin solium, which means “seat” or “throne” and also solum, meaning “ground” or “base.” Dig further and you find the Indo-European verbal root sed, which means “to sit, settle down on the ground,” a fine autumnal practice.

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