from Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson
The land of the farm, like most of the Ottawa Valley, is dark soil for two to four inches that sits on top of quick clay. Compressed by the weight of continental ice sheets of the last ice age, this clay formed the ground of the Champlain Sea until the waters receded. Digging up various sections large and small, it’s common to find sea shells and imprints of creatures that once lived in the brackish waters. The larger fields have been turned over often, green crops plowed under to increase the organic content, wheat crops rotated with corn to replenish the depleted nutrients. On a smaller scale the flower and vegetable gardens have benefited from turning in well-aged compost, rotation of vegetables in the boxes, and a moving stage of flowering plants.
The surface is broken open to native crops put in service of enriching the ground. Digging past the four inches of topsoil, I am unearthing the quick clay of 10,000 years ago which mixes in with last month’s composted local broccoli stalks and limp lettuce. But there is also a subtle international net that draws in the nourishment from far-flung soils. This clay which has lain here for these thousands of years now meets mango skins from Mexico or Thailand, strawberry hulls from California, peach peels from British Columbia, and coffee grounds from South America. Microbes, pollen, floral skin and bone cross cultural, political and chronographic boundaries to shape the ground.
Is penetrating into our true nature any different? The hard ground of our practice was likely just as compressed by a heavy frozen weight that slowly melted allowing our deepest ground to assert itself. It’s only when we surface from the glacial sea of self-absorption into the drying air that seeds can take hold. It is only when the clay is turned with what is present and available that we can be enriched by the living and dying of all matter from near and far.
Thank you for practicing,