At left, still from the pilot episode of Six Feet Under.

We spend our lives pressing down upon it; or we can instead imagine it pressing up through the soles of our feet to meet us in active support. When we feel a confident stability, we say we’re “grounded.” We ourselves are of the earth, though we spend enormous psychic energy on denying it. The best wine is the wine that tastes most distinctively of the very local soil in which the grapes have grown.

Planting. Sowing and harvest are central to the ritual practices of countless cultures. As metaphors, they figure centrally in the parables of the New Testament. Trees and whole gardens are planted in commemoration of a birth, a death, an anniversary, a new beginning. The Christian monastic garden is a recovery of Eden. To connect a spiritual event to the growth of plants is literally to root it and assure its ongoing presence in one’s life.

Burying. We spend our lives burying the dead. We ourselves are waiting in line to be buried. But we can also bury an object we want to declare no longer has power over us. Or a treasure we want preserved. To bury is also to plant, since seed dies as it falls into the earth. In many early cultures, the dead were buried in fetal position, their tomb being understood also as the earth’s womb.

Smearing. Ashes on the forehead are a sign of one’s mortality. To give and receive that sign can be one of the most intimately compassionate of human acts. Dirt out of place is almost by definition a culture’s idea of impurity. Which is why a mudhole is so appealing. Especially if it’s full of naked men.