Inhalation. Exhalation. A matched pair, they drive every process in our bodies and most of those happening in the soil. Have you ever taken a breath, exhaled, and then paused, holding your lungs empty for a moment? When the next inhalation comes it feels so good, the flow of air in the nostrils, ribs and belly expanding, a delicious inner satisfaction. I wonder if the soil feels this way when I fluff a compacted garden bed with my fork, a rush of oxygen suddenly available to a billion garden micro-creatures.
Air is the first essential ingredient our bodies, and the soil, require. We can go a month without food, several days without water, but only minutes without air. While food is by far the more popular topic, judging by the millions of cookbooks at work in the world and the amount of space in garden books dedicated to discussions of N-P-K, it is air and breathing that are the foundation of all biochemical reactions digesting those recipes and pumping that blood and sap. The lungs in a soil (capillary space, soil structure) are built through the addition of humus, well-made compost, and the balancing of the calcium and magnesium nutrients. Together these build that crumbly yet slightly sticky texture that reminds me of a certain stage in mixing butter into flour to make a pie dough.
I have been thinking about the lungs in the soil lately because of my own recent experiences learning to breathe. I know this seems like something I would have had down for closing-in-on-half-a-century, but I learned otherwise a few weeks ago while taking a voice opening class with Dolli Melanie (www.voiceopening.net. Take one of her classes if you ever have the chance!). I was lying on my back doing the breathing exercise she was teaching us when Dolli said something about the space inside being infinite. I suddenly had this picture of an infinite fractal space, of miniature lungs inside each capillary of my lung, containing more miniature lungs, into infinity. As that image settled in, the floodgates opened and the oxygen poured in. Really good for the bloodstream!
Since then I step more gingerly on the garden and meadow paths. I will be more conscientious this year and wait for the soil to dry enough to be worked without injuring that delicate lung space. I will continue to revel in those spongy, air-holding textures that my plants love too. I will lay down near my garden beds and together we will breathe, infinitely.