Book Review: Dirt: A Love Story

dirtDirt: a love story
Editor: Barbara Richardson
ISBN: 978-1-61168-766-8
ForeEdge: 2015
$19.95, 200pp.

An anthology about dirt. How is it possible to have over thirty writers tell us about something that is, well, as plain as dirt? Well, it helps when you’re able to bring in some of the big guns of land-based writing: Pam Houston, Wes Jackson, Laura Pritchett, Janisse Ray, Linda Hogan, BK Loren, Julene Bair and editor Barbara Richardson, herself. (Additional contributors include several biologists, as well as at least one of each of the following: sculptor, filmmaker, geomorphologist, vintner and terrestrial ecologist.) It helps, too, that there’s so much to the ground beneath our feet it that boggles even the best of minds. Many of the essays are reminiscent of what you once found in the wonderful biannual Isotope before it, sadly, went under six years ago.
One of the joys of reading anthologies is discovering a new-to-you writer. Mine was Julene Bair. In the second paragraph of her “Dirt Princess,” Bair seized both my heart and mind when she said, “I’ve spent forty years getting the connection straight. I didn’t come from Adam’s rib but from the clay, just like him.” In the essay, she writes about growing up as a Kansas farm kid, how dirt was one of the constants in her life. Besides her family farming in it, Bair played in it, was thrown by horses onto it, and was a target for it in the clods thrown by her brothers. Even now, separated by decades and many, many miles, this same tract of Kansas dirt still grounds Bair.

A recurring theme of this anthology is how we’ve become “too clean” in our current society. Our avoidance of dirt prevents us from receiving many of the essential microbes, bacteria and other micro-stuffs that keep our bodies healthy and running smoothly. Further, by distancing and separating ourselves from the ground that holds us, we lose our connection to place and our connection to our origins.
I am so happy this book has crossed my path. It took less than a day for my copy to get bent and twisted. Just as has happened with Refuge, Desert Solitaire, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and my Kent Haruf novels, Dirt: a love story, is a book I’ll return to over and over, time and time again – whether for a sip or to savor in its entirety.
I do have a nitpick about the subtitle: It’s not “a love story,” it’s “thirty-seven love stories,” because there are 36 writers and one reader: you.

Eduardo Rey Brummel can’t remember the last time he got dirty and was glad of it.