In March 2013, the Sibling Discovery Project brought us the word soil—a concept that came easily for all of us. Paul’s vision for a carving was vivid. Norma worked with materials found on hand. I wrote fast, producing the poem below in about 30 minutes.

Perhaps this is because we farm kids grew up with soil at the ready, always at hand.

* * *

Paul, the woodcarving brother, thought of a wooden box, beginning with walnut on the bottom (a darker wood). The walnut would continue up the sides, transitioning to lighter maple. He would use a scroll saw to make hills and the roots and stem of a small plant, which would reach from the walnut into the maple, continuing up and over to form a three-dimensional sprout handle on top of  the box.

Just imagine those roots, “all cut in and sanded smooth,” growing up and through the variegated wood.

Such beauty from this dirty little prompt.

And that’s the point. “It occurred to me that others may think soil is just dark brown stuff,” Paul said. But for those who really look at and appreciate soil, there is a whole palette of colors, and they vary with moisture. “Then you add the crops on top, giving even more colors. There is quite a lot of visual to it.”

* * *

Norma, the textile artist sister, admitted she didn’t think about the word much at all. Her thoughts went to the tree of life—and the recognition that it must have roots. “Then I thought about soil’s purpose: to contain the roots.” she said. Here is the design that emerged:


“Someday this summer, this will be completed. I really like it. It has an eerie and strong presence to me … which is what soil does have,” Norma said. She found a connection between her image and my poem—particularly the words “anticipating growth”—as well as the phrase “dust to dust.”

* * *

I’m the writing sister. At first, I got hung up on how other people might see soil. Trying to assume someone else’s point of view, I had no words. When I let go of that notion and described soil from my own experience, the words tumbled forth with ease. Imagine that. 


to the fibers
of his overalls
stiff, dark ovals
where elbows and knees
forge daily impressions
in the land

in long lines
of mini mountains
standing watch over
trenches of tiny treasure
until a brush of steel
tumbles and melds the mounds
into one
warm black blanket

dark and silent
from creek to fence
nurturing the year’s investment

Beth Nyland, March 10, 2013

One response to “Soil

  1. Pingback: Sibling Discovery: our first independent goals | Beth Nyland·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s