Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mind Wander on a Blustery Day

Every culture names the pieces of its world. The words that are the names of things may mean different things to people, such as "soil". Soil is a problem if you are about to wash close but it is a crucial element if you are about to plant corn.

Soil, dirt, earth, dust, clay, mud, whatever. In my local world we have lots of dirt that has different names. I'm a big fan of dirt and consider it my friend. The folks who have to put up with me on a day to day basis know that I wear a fair amount of dirt as part of my wardrobe. I can put on fresh clean clothes right out of the dryer and in a few minutes, with no trouble at all, I will have decorated them with dirt. Me and dirt go way back.

Some time ago, I picked up a handfull of garden dirt and showed it to my very young son. I told him things as we looked at the dirt. There are millions of tiny living things in there...And minerals, chemicals, tiny rocks, pieces of dead plants, and all sorts of things we may not even know about. There are plants and animals and the things that plants and animals are made of that are too small to see. Nematodes and protazoa, fungi and bacteria, and other things that are almost plants and animals that I forget the name of. Those things are made up of more, smaller things that are too small to see. And those smaller things in turn are made up of even smaller things that are too small to see. At some point as we think about even smaller things, we get to the things that are so small that not only can we not see them but we can not even know about them.

Later I put some dirt in a jar with a little water and the next day we looked at the little beasties cruising around in it through a microscope. It didn't kick off his career as a great scientist but he quit eating dirt.

There are a lot of things in dirt. It is full of wonder. And it is full of information. There is far more information in a handfull of dirt than in all the books of mankind. And I think it would be far better for mankind if the information in dirt were paid more attention.

We have all those names for the kinds of dirt because our world is mostly dirt, just like Eskimos have names for the kinds of snow because their world is made up of so much snow, or used to be before we started screwing the atmosphere up for fun and profit. Wintertine in the South is rarely about snow but about the interface or mixture of dirt and snow. It's been snowing the last day or so and that's what got me going on the names of things. We Southerners have a few snow names of our own. Dry snow, we've heard of that, slush, which is what we mostly get, sleet, ice, powder, only in the ads for ski resorts, and then there's "hominy."

Hominy is what grits are made of. Everybody knows that, right? You soak corn in lye, it swells up, you dry it out and grind it and that's a grit. Hominy is kinda big looking corn, all puffed up and roundish. I have no idea why humans decided to make it and less about why they decided to eat it. If you have to use that much butter and salt why not just skip all those steps and eat dirt?

Anyway, in hill country there's such a thing as the locals call "hominy snow" and it's been falling around here lately. It's like someone took all the snowflakes and rolled them up in little balls. There's never much of it and I never saw it until I moved to the mountains, so I think it occurs when the temperatures waffle around freezing and the air is very turbulent. Hominy snow usually occurs when we have flurries, which are all just a big tease.

The one Indian tale I read about hominy snow didn't make much sense to me. It was supposed to be about Winter trying to delay Spring but Spring came anyway. I think the talker had been testing mushrooms from the weird stuff in the story.

Anyway, I'm glad there are different kinds of snow and that they fall on me.




  1. ..and that is why I read White's Creek. It makes me smile.

  2. What a nice thing to say! Thank you.