Here is a dung beetle pushing his treasure along on the pigs’ pasture. The beetle has made a nice round ball of dung – his opus, life’s work. The ball is many times the beetle’s size, and the little guy is working hard. Its labors distribute natural fertilizer and put carbon back into the soil. I imagine the beetle noticing me, the giant, towering above him/her and saying “Ohhh, sh..t!”
Nearby is some dry dung. It is hard and brittle, (yes, I poked it!) and it is not available to the soil if it cannot break down. What is happening, instead, is that the nitrogen in it is evaporating. We need rain.
The other day when I was weed-whacking perimeter line to set up electric fencing in the sheep pasture, I hit a dried-out cow plop, and the weed whacker just blasted it into dust. Too dry to feed the soil, it fed my skin and hair. (Hey L’Oreal!) Sometimes I visit my partner Louie right after sheep chores and he tells me I smell like sheep. I think I had a big, wicked smile after my vaporized dung bath as the thought floated by, “Wai’till he hugs me today!”
Nourishment does not just flow into the soil. It goes the other way as well, completing the circle: Living forages turn sunlight into nutrients and send some of it into the soil through their roots, feeding the invisible communities inside the soil. These communities of microbes and fungi return the favor by producing plant growth hormones. Some make minerals available to the plant, so the growth spurred on by the hormones will be healthy. Clover is great at pulling nitrogen (read: carbon) out of the air and putting it in the soil -- free fertilizer, free application, free climate help! Big gift from a being that is 5 inches tall. We walk on a thousand miracles every day.
And now it is time for me to check on the sheep, who are the next link in this web of miracles. They will “m-b-e-e” when they see me coming with the red treat bucket, and I will “m-b-e-e” back. Our earlier ba-a-ing back and forth did not go anywhere, and they look at me kind of funny when I answer them. (“Who’re you kidding?! You no sheep!”) But I am still working on it. Does ruminating on miracles count?