So I was planting tulip bulbs a few weeks ago when it occurred to me – this is the first time in weeks that I’ve touched something not man-made. Almost everything in our day-to-day environs is an artifact. Our clothes – woven from some fiber. Our tools – stamped or cast from metal or plastic. Our food – bred to meet our needs. A carrot is as much made as a hammer. Seafood is an exception, but less and less of that is caught in the wild. Dogs are pretty much an artifact; cats are less so. Furniture, cars, books – even our water is purified before we touch it.
In gardening you touch actual dirt, made by plants and eathworms and microbes. Dirt is why everything else in our lives is man-made – actual nature is unhealthy. Plants and animals really don’t want to be touched. They’ll discourage it with thorns and teeth. The bacteria that do want to get into us are doing so for reasons we don’t encourage. We like our surfaces to be sterile and dead instead of alive and infectious.
This isn’t a particularly modern condition. People have worn shoes and used hoes for a long time. Humanity has been steadily separating itself from direct contact with the natural world for millenia. You live longer that way. It may seem limiting and sheltered to be wrapping ourselves in a cocoon of our own stuff, but it’s protective too.