What Lies Beneath Our Feet

“Loam Soils - Loam can be found in valleys and flat areas, such as flood plains surrounding rivers and streams. The term loam refers to soil with a favorable mix of sand and clay. It is relatively fertile and holds moisture well, but loam soils may require the addition of organic matter.”

My family farms in the Central Valley of California, in some heavy clay soils, and has for three generations. Although I wasn’t much into learning these soil properties in school, I have been researching them again lately with a distinct metaphor in my head. Yesterday, I googled ‘soil characteristics’ and clicked on California and ‘loam soil’ was the first definition tot come up. Soil Science was my least favorite class as an Agribusiness major at Cal Poly SLO, but some of it has stuck with me nonetheless. When I read this description, it made me laugh, because it’s pretty much sums up my human goal in soil science terms:

To be versatile, and encourage growth based on what I can hold onto , let go of,

and share, with the environment that is growing around me.

On a down day, I fight the feeling that my life has been such a random path for a traditional person like me, and I struggle to see the connections that brought a Agribusiness major, with a bigger passion for growing people instead of plants (but really, who knows this at 20) to the ocean, to become a writer.  And while there is a lot more to soil science than this one definition, my writer self sees soil types - the clays, loams, and sands, in the qualities of the people that live with that soil under their feet…like a direct transfer of properties from the earth underneath us.

Clay holds tight to what is put into it, in its case water and nutrients, but sometimes too tight, not allowing it to drain and the root gets suffocated.  Sand retains the least amount of water, is also easily replenished, but often what is important to growth leaches out very quickly, so it needs additions and attention in a very steady supply.

Agriculture is a tough but beautiful life. I have a deep admiration for the people who sustain it year in and year out. The risks are high, and it takes a rugged, even entrenched personality, to survive for generations. The people that run these businesses that feed the world have learned generation after generation to hold tight to their principles, sometimes even to their own detriment, for the value of the greater good. They don’t give in, ever. Tradition, loyalty, and optimism are at the heart of their core values, and getting them to change course is an extremely slow, arduous process, because they always believe that the best is yet to come, and they build deep sustaining energy from that place. Consultants have made entire careers out of getting these heavy clay folks to evolve to a new plan. What they do is who they are, it’s one identity. Being a farmer isn’t just a job where you clock in and clock out. It’s 24/7 live it, breathe it, work it…consistency at all costs. 

For the past seven years, I’ve lived among the beach people, and would say in so many ways have become one of them. I am pulled into the ocean to swim and let the salt water wash away whatever is ailing me. Since the first time I smelled the briny ocean air as a kid, it has been a part of me. The closer I get to it, the calmer I become…it heals me mind, body, and soul.  Since I became a full time beach person, the days pass quickly, and change is a constant. Things that I held so dear slipped through my fingers like the sand I get to play in everyday.

There is a beauty to this life though, because I have learned to let go, and not hang on to everything, like the heavy clay, because sometimes what we hang on to is curbing our growth and our destiny. For most of the beach people I know, their job is a means to an end, and the end is to live this beautiful life on the sand…and it’s hard to for me to knock that, because it’s working for me too. 

I think the challenge as we progress through life is to figure out what to learn from the ebb and flow of holding on and letting go. I am so grateful to have had a life with my feet in both of these soils and my dream is to use these parts of me to create a beautiful loamy ribbon that produces fruit.. I’ve been blessed to have deep roots in heavy soil that taught me the values that I hold onto, and the lightness of the sand that gives me the freedom to be who I am today. And there is another non scientific four letter word for that “organic matter” that loam soils often need added to make their growing capacity ideal, and that is exactly how I look at what some might call misfortunes in my life.  They have changed my structure and my ability to hold more in a healthy way, making everything around me grow stronger too.  I am right where I am supposed to be, with roots that run deep and my feet in the sand, and for now, I don’t think it gets any better than that.