The Answer Is in the Soil: A Message from Team Petrichor
“Soil, not oil, holds the future for humanity.”
– Vandana Shiva
Soil is the matrix from which all life exists. Every living thing on earth depends on it to some degree. It is our lifeblood, yet we so often overlook, neglect, and disrespect the soil beneath our feet. We treat it like DIRT. We try to control the landscape – shape it, mound it, flatten it, cut it, fill it, and expect it to perform for our aesthetic desires and production benefits. There is something wrong here.
Are there any landscapes left that are not on life-support? In other words, which landscapes do not require lots of water, fertilizer, and constant inputs? Does truly native topsoil or unimpacted soil even exist any more? It certainly doesn’t in Southern California. Your home is most likely built on degraded land that is now devoid of the life that distinguishes dirt from soil. No one gently placed your home on the land you live on. It was stripped, burned, repeatedly doused with chemicals, bulldozed… There is NO unimpacted soil in Southern California. Seventy years of lead gasoline, years of acid rain, and rampant development have assured us of that.
Humanity’s degradation of the soil has disrupted natural water cycles to the point of SLOW return. When rain hits degraded soil, it runs off into our roads and storm drains rather than percolating back into the water table. One third of the Earth’s topsoil, which took over 1 million years to form, has been destroyed in less than a century and yet we still expect our landscapes to perform? Let’s sit on that soil for a few minutes and ponder. There are lessons that come from the past if we listen closely and ask the deep questions. How did we get here? What can I do? Where is our relationship to the soil? Where is the reciprocity?
Indigenous wisdom has shown us that we have lost our connection with Nature. By trying to control Nature, we have disrupted her natural cycles. We have taken and taken and taken from her, but we have not given back. We have forgotten how to listen to the land and to feel her responses. And unfortunately, we take more than we need. We take so much that others go without. Human supremacy is at the top of this problem but the solution lies somewhere in our minds and hearts. We are the problem… but we are also the solution.
Our work at Studio Petrichor is heavily focused on the human impact on the landscapes we are trying to restore. We continue to strive for better relationships with our soils, with carbon, with water, with plants and animals, with each other. The concepts of “stewardship” and “land management” represent a top-down way of thinking. They are the words of the colonizers. Our work focuses on the interconnected, reciprocal, empathetic exchange with the land around us. This exchange is a process, not perfection. It starts with saying “thank you” and evolves into a lifelong relationship with our landscapes.
We thank Therese Richau, Andy Salas, and Matt Teutimez (Gabrieleno Elders) for sharing the pain, deceit, and lessons of California’s past, as well as their hope for the future.
We thank Kat High (Hupa Elder) for sharing with us a decolonized, interconnected way of moving forward into land care rather than land management.
We thank Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass for the lessons of gratitude, reciprocity, and respect for the land.
We thank those whose ancestors thrived on this land before colonization and who passed down their wisdom. We honor and thank you for your wisdom… and we will fight to restore what has been lost.