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The Beauty of Dirt

“Don’t touch that-!” a mother says to her little toddler son, who is playing with a stick that he found on the ground.

“Now don’t play in the dirt,” a grandfather says to his little granddaughter as they step off the deck of their house and into the backyard.

In both instances, the message being sent is well-meaning, clear, and unmistakable: Dirt is bad.

Upon reflection, I now beg to differ. There are different kinds of dirt, and they can be either good or bad. Too often, however, we too quickly assume the negative.

God made man from the dust of the ground (that’s dirt!), and, as one old farmer put it, “God don’t make no junk!” With the creation of the earth, God stopped making dirt, so we’d better take care of what dirt we have.

Sure, there are some impurities and other dangerous things in dirt, but we can’t condemn all dirt as bad just because of that. In fact, where would we be without it? Even with the advances made in hydroponic agriculture, we still need dirt to grow most of our foods. We need dirt for construction of homes and roads. And think of all the things that are made using different kinds of dirt. For example, bricks and tiles. And think of the things that are extracted from dirt–things such as gold, silver, lead, and iron ore. And diamonds!

We tend to get all worked up over dirt. Dirty hands. Dirty fingernails. Dirty faces. Dirty diapers. It’s not dirt itself, however, that is bad. It’s where it is and when it gets there that present a problem.

It’s not so bad for a child to have dirty hands if he’s playing. That’s a child’s way of learning. He’s feeling the dirt, getting to know it, its texture and qualities and characteristics. He scrapes it into a pile He scatters it about. He throws it into the air and watches how it falls back to the earth again. He throws clods of it. He builds highways in it. He makes hills and mountains of it. It gets into his pores and under his fingernails. He eats it.

Stop! That’s far enough!

There are limits to what one can and should do with dirt, even in an otherwise good pursuit.

I played in the dirt when I was a child. I built those highways for my Tonka and Buddy-L toy trucks. I tossed dirt clods into the air and hit them with sticks or threw them, pretending that they were hand grenades, and watched them “explode” in a cloud of dust. I slid in dirt when we played baseball. I got it under my fingernails and in my pores. Sometimes I even got it in my mouth, such as when my brother and his friends convinced me to play football with them and it evolved into a game of “pick up and smear–Dennis.” But I can’t remember ever eating it–or even wanting to.

No one had to tell me, “Don’t eat dirt, Dennis.” I just knew not to. Just as no one ever taught me not to eat worms. If I had tried to eat either, I’m sure that someone would have stopped me.

To an overprotective parent or a fastidious person, perhaps dirt is ugly. But to an archaeologist dirt is wonderful. To a mineralogist, it’s great stuff. To a farmer, it’s beautiful.

Jesse Stuart wrote of “the beauty of dirt.” He was a man of the dirt of the rocky hills and mountains of Eastern Kentucky. He saw that dirt was the root of man’s sustenance, the place of man’s labors, the home and playground of God’s creatures. He, like other people of the soil, recognized the beauty of dirt. Just as a sculptor looks at a lump of clay and sees a bowl or a pitcher or a vase, Stuart looked at the soil and saw corn and beans and okra and maple syrup and sassafras tea. The soil produced weeds and thorns and thistles as well, but they were the price one paid for the use of the good things that the soil produces for man.

Stay clean, of course, but learn to see the beauty of dirt.

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