Earth is a good word for pondering in this shaggy season as we toil in our gardens and tend the sweet beginnings of the harvest to come. All things, or at least most things, arise from the earth and return to it in time, us included.
The word dates from before 950 CE, and it comes to us through the good offices of the Middle English erthe, the Old English eorthe; the Germanic Erde, Old Norse jǫrth, Danosh jord and the Gothic airtha, all springing from the Ancient Saxon eard meaning soil,home, or dwelling. All forms are likely related to the Latin aro, meaning to plough or turn over.
What are we thinking of when we say "earth", simply the ground under our feet, garden plots, orchards, wooded hills, city parks, farm fields and shadowed arroyos? Is it wild plums, oak leaves, artfully arching willow branches, seeds and sleeping roots down below. Is it the granite bones of the planet and its fiery heart way down deep?
All that and much more... Skin and blood, bones and hair, the tributaries of our veins, the synapses and sinews of the planet on which we live out our allotted days, the rocks and trees and other beings with whom we share our home, the air we are breathing in and out - all are connected and part of an elemental process, a vast web. As thoughtless a strand in that web as humans are, we forget that we are part of anything at all. We think of ourselves as separate and above the earth, as masters with the right to litter and clutter and torment and destroy.
It doesn't have to be that way. Yearning for something else and knowing not quite what that something is, we can turn and look back on the long journey taken to arrive in this moment and realize that we are not separate. We are the earth, and the earth is us. As the late Carl Sagan and ecologist Joanna Macy have both written: "We are our world knowing itself". We can stand, feet in the dirt and heads in the sky, and we can know, root and branch, that we belong here, just as river mud, wild grapes in the hedgerow, sunflowers and sandpipers do. Dirt and clouds - what a life!