Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2005 | Reviews

Living with Topsoil: Tending Spirits, Cherishing Land by Mary Swander, Cornelia F. Mutel, Patrick Irelan, Thomas K. Dean, Larry Stone, et. al.

By Shelbi Thomas
Living With Topsoil

You don’t need to sport a green thumb or live on a farm to appreciate Living with Topsoil: Tending Spirits, Cherishing Land. This essay collection featuring prominent Iowa writers will appeal to any Midwesterner who recognizes the treasure in having some of the world’s most fertile earth beneath his or her feet.

The book examines the intimate but complicated relationship between Iowans and their environment. Topics range from the challenges of growing an organic garden to the connection formed between lives past and present at Coralville’s Devonian Fossil Gorge. Though each essay is unique to its particular region and the author’s personal experiences, all stories emphasize human responsibility to care for the land.

Strung throughout is a reverence for nature and its life-giving qualities that will leave you thinking “dirt” is a dirty word—preferring the term “soil,” instead. Also prevalent in the book is the idea that place helps define who we are—that Iowa’s farming heritage is engrained in our everyday lives, whether or not we embrace that legacy. Living with Topsoil reminds us that we lose a part of ourselves each time rich farmland is bulldozed to make way for urban sprawl and careless corporations more interested in profit than stewardship. The essays should inspire readers to reconsider the soil that Stone says “makes life on Earth not only possible but satisfying.”