I Dig Dirt: The Remedy for Derealization   (July 23, 2011)

I dig dirt, not so much in the literal sense but in the sense of liking it. It is one cure for the derangements created by our culture of derealization.

I don't know about you, but I can only stand so much "news," i.e. derealization. Beyond that threshold, it is completely deranging. In Survival+, I used the word derealization to describe the inner disconnect between what we experience and what the propaganda/marketing complex we live in tells us we should be experiencing.

This derealization derangement plays out in many ways: obesity, difficulty sleeping, passivity, lack of engagement with real life, inability to maintain meaningful relationships, reliance on medication and/or drugs, inability to concentrate, low-intensity rage and frustration, depression, and so on.

I addressed the derealization-food-obesity connections in More Food for Thought: What's Behind the Obesity Epidemic? (May 13, 2009).

The entry includes this fascinating personal account from correspondent A.R.:

I wanted to share with you (and your readers, if you think my message worthwhile) my experience with food and weight.

The long and short of it is that I used to exercise very vigorously (200 miles per week of bicycling year-round) and yet struggled with weight, food cravings, binges on carbs and sweets. I was an unhappy, very fidgety person who couldn't sit still or concentrate, even though I was a vegetarian, who developed lactose intolerance, so I cut out dairy products a few years before:

A decade ago we moved to a farm and began growing our own organic vegetables on a grand scale. We supplement our home-grown with store-bought organic rice and other grains, olive oil, spices and a few condiments (avoiding HFCS and anything with potential GMO, such as soy). I cut out almost all sugar. (My spouse still eats sweets and I occasionally eat one of his home-baked cookies.) We have our own chickens, so I eat eggs and chicken sparingly as a condiment.

Due to time constraints I stopped cycling and get little exercise beyond gardening and farm maintenance. My BMI is a steady 19, cholesterol well under 200. I have no food cravings at all and eat only when hungry. I still think about food a lot, but only because I am planning and managing my garden and meal preparation. I am no longer fidgety, and can concentrate, even when reading technical blogs about economics!

A.R.'s experience suggests that diet is perhaps even more critical than exercise in maintaining a healthy mind/body (recalling the ancient Asian wisdom that the mind and body are one.)

Her report also suggests that total caloric intake is less important than the kinds of food one is eating or not eating; it also draws a distinct line between a "normal" American diet, even a vegetarian one, and the presence of cravings/binges and a fidgety lack of concentration--the very traits reported nowadays as ADD (attention deficit disorder) or similar "clinically approved" syndromes.

Here is an advert for a typical "facsimile-food" in the American diet which I have "re-realized":

If we eat facsimile-food, is it any wonder our society is deranged?

I titled this entry "I dig dirt" as a poor pun, because I do dig dirt literally, but not much. The "dig" is mostly in the "hip" sense of liking dirt, enjoying dirt and studying dirt, along with the rest of our garden.

In 40 years of gardening, I have become a very lazy gardener. I don't strive for neatness, nor do I disturb the dirt much. It is a complex ecosystem, and it doesn't like being dug up and disturbed. So I leave it alone, and heap the compost on top in Spring, where it more or less soaks into the soil.

I do pull or skim off weeds, but leave plenty of alyssum and poppies for the pollinators and for color. If you keep very still in a small garden with many flowering plants, you will observe an amazing array of pollinating insects at work. The bugs that favor the tiny alyssum flowers are quite different from the bees that like the poppies, and various moths are active at different times of the day, as well as wasps and bumblebees.

There's at least one group of urban racoons active in the neighborhood, so we leave water out for them, and bury our eggshells and other non-smelly compost where they can root around at night without harming the garden. We started leaving the water out after we noticed the old wine bottle we keep around as an outdoor flower vase was being knocked over every night. We finally figured out the racoons were toppling the bottle to get the water inside. So now we leave the bowl of water out for them.

We have been gardening this small urban plot for about 18 years, so maintaining the soil is essential. The garden wouldn't do well if I didn't really dig dirt.

Here are a few photos of my messy, unkempt garden. Here are the scarlet runner beans, outgrowing the trellis. They have the most amazing flowers.

Here are some of the first green beans, stir-fried and ready to eat:

Baby bok-choy, with dripline and alyssum:

And delivered to the table:

Right now our small organic garden, no bigger than a postage stamp in a nation of vast lawns, has the scarlet runners, Russian kale, lettuce, Swiss chard, zucchini, cucumber, parsley, sunflowers, garlic, an onion (weird and wonderful flower), the peach tree, strawberries, and some seedlings whose identity I've already forgotten: possibly amaranth. We'll see soon enough.

It's not too late to plant; check out the Everlasting Seeds catalog. (Our cucumbers are Everlasting stock.)

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