Most parents know now that this preoccupation with antimicrobial handwashes and sanitizing wipes is tidying us all up a little too much for our own good. It seems we need some good old fashioned dirt and grime to maintain good health. The only problem is there is nothing old fashioned nor supposedly good about dirt these days.
My neighbor alerted me that I might want to reconsider using leaves in a collective compost area because the pile might be bringing arsenic (from post-copper smeltering days and drifting particulates that have settled) up through the soils. We live on a ridge that overlooks a river listed as a Superfund site (http://www.epa.gov/superfund/). I try not to look at the news stories where a kid scrapes his leg on an outdoor basketball court and gets some flesh-eating disease.
WTF, World? Really. Didn’t we make fun of Howard Hughes and his obsessive compulsive preoccupation of staying clean? Weren’t we the generation of kids that swallowed mouthfuls of dust each time we skidded out in our Hot Wheels? It seems our juvenile love for dirt didn’t translate into us advocating to keep our dirt clean.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
I shuddered twice today – first, as my son picked up handful upon handfuls of dirt and threw them in the air and then twice, as I said “No, no, no!” Isn’t part of being a kid connecting with the natural world from the ground up? I know this and yet I can’t let go of this urge to keep him from bathing in the stuff. Perhaps there should be a third shudder when I look at my own lack of knowledge on the state of the soils in my backyard and my apathy that keeps me from doing this research.
I think it all comes back to the things we can’t see. We couldn’t see CFCs or heavy metals or all the other nasties that were being spewed out by industrial processes and consumer products all around us. And now we can’t see where they’ve all landed, but we have good sense to know the world is not a completely natural place anymore. We have systems to help filter at least a fraction of the damage.
So perhaps my million dollar idea is creating a dirt resort. I will build an oasis of the world’s best silty-clay-loam mixes, smelling of forest floors and lacking in industrial additives. Small children will play there. The pica afflicted will nibble there. Without guilt and the toxic load.
All sarcasm aside, aren’t we all straddling some teeter-totter between what we fear and what we let our kids experience?