Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 10, 2013

Charles Romans: A day without dirt: 11/11/13

Charles Romans
For The Independent

ASHLAND — The human race has a very long history of being at odds with the environment. Some cultures have had a better track record than others of living in varying degrees of harmony with the world around them; but more often than not that harmony had proven elusive, or only attempted as an afterthought if at all.

Historically, humans have been more concerned with their own immediate needs with little or no thought for the extended future. That thinking has led to pollution, deforestation and global warming, among other things.

Those problems, though serious and increasingly grim, are more like the symptoms of the disease and not the disease itself — much like a cough is a symptom, but not the cold. We can clean up pollution (like taking cough medicine), but that isn’t the same thing as eliminating the cause (the cold). Treating the symptoms only succeeds in making us more comfortable temporarily, and helps to keep us quiet while the disease slowly — if ever — plays out.

Eliminating the cause of the problems we see would be more like eliminating the disease. But there can be more than one cause, one problem, and finding those causes can be very difficult. Still, everything begins somewhere. And a lot of the problems that exhibit symptoms like pollution and other environmental issues can be traced back to something as simple as awareness. We don’t necessarily have to be environmentalists or “tree-huggers;” but we have to be aware the trees are there and the things we do have an effect on all other life on the planet.

We are fortunate in this area to still be able to see “green.” It is more than a buzzword or an attempt to make ourselves feel better. Everywhere we look we can still see at least some natural vegetation that isn’t simply displayed for effect like animals in a zoo. Some areas are not so fortunate. Though it may be difficult for us to truly imagine, there are some areas, some cities in our country, where people go about their lives and from daylight to dark they never once set their feet on anything that isn’t carpeted, tiled or paved and concreted. And often the only real green they see is the occasional potted plant.

People have forgotten we need dirt in our lives. Black and rich dirt or sandstone and shale, dirt is where it all begins. We need dirt to grow food, land to build on, and a place for our children to run barefoot. We need dirt beneath our feet that isn’t toxic, and all of the things that come with it like bugs and grass and wildlife; it’s what scientists call biodiversity, but in simple terms we can just call it by its real name — health.

Dirt and all that comes with it, all that belongs with it, makes us healthy both mentally and physically. We can’t make any more, so we should take care of what we have.

We all know this, of course, even if only on a subconscious level. We won’t see paint companies name a color “autumn concrete” or air fresheners with a “clean asphalt” scent because when people truly think about relaxation or what is pleasant then it is nature that comes to mind. Nostalgia doesn’t keep the dirt clean, however, and artificial nature isn’t nature at all. A pine-scented cleaner is not, after all, the same as the actual tree regardless of its scent and no matter how luxurious the carpet it isn’t the same as the feeling you get from actual grass between your toes.

Now none of this means that we all should give up living in houses and instead camp in the woods. What it does mean is that we should be aware of the resources that we have and appreciate them because they aren’t infinite. Nature, of course, renews itself, given time; but even nature needs something to work with. We need to help the process along because we, unfortunately, are the biggest problem nature has to overcome. Nature decomposes and renews itself, and eventually everything is recycled into the all-important dirt. We, on the other hand, generate garbage and filth, and too often we don’t clean up after ourselves.

So really the choice is ours. Do we want clean dirt with bugs and grass or plastic bottles and toxic water? We need to make that choice and make it soon before the only pine scent we ever smell comes from a bottle of cleaner that washes concrete and the only dirt left is buried under too many layers of irresponsibility and indifference.

CHARLES ROMANS is a freelance writer who lives in Greenup County.