Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The earth under our feet

Yesterday I was wandering the Internet when I came upon a quote by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Here’s a part of what he had written:

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or thin air, but to walk on earth.

Years ago I read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. What I remember of the novel (and memory, of course, is a chancy guide) is the old Chinese farmer going out to the field and taking off his sandals to feel that earth with the soles of his feet, an incredibly sensuous scene.

My mother grew up on a farm, and when I was small we had a huge garden for a few years before she became too sick to care for it. Our neighbor Mr. Reeser had a tractor and came to plow up the ground for us each spring. I have a vivid memory of standing on that turned-over clayey soil that still held the curve of the plow blade, earthworms crawling around the clods. I was barefoot. The air was moist with rain.

Both these memories rose up when I walked barefoot in my own tiny backyard a few days ago, breathing the earthy smell of rich, black dirt in the rain-drenched air, feeling the cool soil through the soles my feet. I might never use those moments from my own garden or that remembered garden in a book, but as a writer and human being I participate daily in the miracle of walking on the earth.

Pay attention. The feel of dirt under our feet matters.


  1. Lovely. I grew up going barefoot. Once in a while, I slip my shoes off and wander around the yard. Delicious. Our feet need to be released.

  2. Thank you, Phyllis. I remember that it was a badge of honor when my feet were tough enough, on a summer's night, to play kick-the-can barefoot, even when running on gravel. I will go outside this morning and practice tai chi, while the grass tickles my bare feet.