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This post and all other posts on our website are snippets from Firth's writings on Substack.

She Asks for Your Tears, Not Your Toiling.

Soil is the co-relationship of matter, form, and bounded purpose, or creation, that works in the local place, that is known in and only by the local place, and that is only relatable to its local place.

The purely accurate is not yet the true. Truth seeks true relations and it is out of this pure relationship that material and essence and creation work together to construct what is accurately and commonly known as the truth. Soil health and the many modern movements that have been constructed around the soil’s suspected importance in regard to the healthy future of mankind (it is always in regard to humanity’s future) is something that appears purely accurate to us but it is not yet something that is true.

Since the European Enlightenment or even before, we have been comfortable to represent cause as that which fetches something’s nature. After fetching something’s nature, cause may also be that which puts that something to good use. Cause in the modern sense is both the fetcher of the deed and the application of the good—the using of the tool. We are familiar with modern tools—hammers, technology, electricity. But the cause to fetch the hammer alongside the cause to put the hammer into good use is also a tool.

The nature and causes of soil health is in this same way. Time’s play over life’s death and chaotic rebirth is that out of which soil is born. This complex matter is co-responsible for the soil. It is a microbe enmeshed aggregation of life and death, fungi and actinobacteria that emit a gluey glitter that both cements and repels the soil’s particles and plays an essential role in protecting organic materials from biodegradation.

Soil health is indebted to this multimember process for it is out of this that the soil in some true form exists. But the soil’s debt is not to fungi or actinobacteria generally, for these particular members contribute as the matter comprising the soil’s health here and, in this place, and not the matter of the general place across everywhere. Matter is a local property and soil is indebted to its local friends.

The idea extends. The health of the soil is indebted not only to the local matter it contains but also to the aspect or form created by the local matter that allows it to contain anything at all. Science enjoys reductionism like an alcoholic enjoys alcohol or like a college student enjoys inebriation—not intrinsically but in effect. The effect of linearity upon the human intellect is in the same way as it is with alcohol—it reduces overwhelming complexity to manageable realities, if only for the moment.

The modern, “save the climate movements” talk about and view the soil and its health, it appears, from this singular perspective. The effect of soil health is the strong future of humanity; the effect of soil health allows consumerism to continue without destroying the world but also without changing our hearts; the effect of soil health allows the depredation of modern life to appear less desecrating; the effect of soil health is the admixture between a “better” world and, in all reality, the same world as we were born into—where the reigning of industrial capitalism and its greed gets simply more rain, more fuel for its production.

And so, what is soil? And what is soil health? Both the life in which the property is known as soil (matter) and the property in which the soil appears as knowable (its form) are in their respective ways co-responsible for soil. Even humus, the greasy black rot sandwiched between life’s fresh death and death’s fresh, new life is comprehensible only as the co-relation of matter (death) and form (new life).

We can call this its “soilness.” But it is not yet true. To have self-knowledge is good; to have purpose is to be true with oneself.

The soil’s limit or bound is its purpose. This is its ultimate frontier. Limits and bounds are not popular ideas in the modern world of everything. But the truth of soil is the truth of limits. Health, to be usable as either a word or an idea, demands a circumscription of soil as this soil as opposed to that soil. It demands to be known. That is its purpose.

The Greeks have a word for this. Telos—the co-creation between matter, form, and bounded purpose within the duramen of life. Any reductionism of soil health as universally important is the degeneration of its true telos—a mockery of life and not its regeneration. This is because it extends that which is here to be everywhere, insulting bounds and limits like the inebriated often insult laws and their limits.

Soil is the co-relationship of matter, form, and bounded purpose, or creation, that works in the local place, that is known in and only by the local place, and that is only relatable to its local place.

The soil may save you but she is beneath your feet and she is asking for your tears and not your toiling. The soil may save you but she needs you, the primate, and not you, the industrial capitalist and savior of the world.

A retuning of this narrative is the retuning and rebending of our flat earth. It extends the life of those around us by understanding their limits and diminishes our own powers of dominion but not our responsibilities as kin.

Isn’t that what we really want? Isn’t that what a good life should be about?


As I write this, Virginia burns. A tinderbox lacking tears. We entered “extreme drought” status last week and now, just twenty miles upriver, nearly four thousand acres burn. Last week, about an hour northwest, another five thousand acres burned. Another National Park. Another week. Another day in the human dominated world. Rain left the Upper Piedmont nearly four months ago and walking alone kicks up dust. Our children think they are at the beach.

The soil may save us but sometimes I wonder if she wants to. It is time we actually meet her, where she lives, on our knees. Sometimes, instead of looking up at the night sky, we need to instead look down.

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