Why soils? Well, this is a constant invigorated by my passion and wonder for a dynamic, complex habitat that is as resilient as it is fragile, especially in human hands.
How I came to be a soil scientist shares a path with the unconventional and is far more irregular than the unrelenting passion driving my love of regolith. My soils background is as much scientific as creative, as much practical as philosophical and as much fun as serious. Soils allow me a window to contemplate the vast and endless bigger picture of landscape complexity and soil science lets me organise my knowledge around this complexity.
Kayaking Kosciuszko National Park [Photo 169]
I was born in the southern Wyżyna Śląska region of Poland. Inherit of an extensive French lineage and via England, my family migrated to Australia in 1981 where I entered latter primary school to begin learning English. Here was an important lesson in life (and soils) - to attune to more than that we depend upon, which in my case was a language that I was lacking. As a result, I developed greater observational acuity and perceptual contexts. Where I wasn’t learning to communicate I would spend hours in play.
Where? In the dirt of course! Digging through layers, scrutinising plant roots and discovering soil critters was joy. It was not long before I realised that my childhood well intent, produced less than desirable effects and I was responsible for vacating the lives of a few soil critters by altering their soil environment. The language was to come of course, and no trace of my heritage exists in my daily tongue, but these experiences were precursor to accommodating a systemic mind for later approach to learning about soils – and the joy never left of course.
Our success as human beings, as mine as a soil scientist, largely depends on an ability to observe and interact with my surroundings and fellow beings. Cultivating acuity to observe variability is the cornerstone of our conditioning culturally as well as scientifically. We are in effect programmed well to receive and communicate differences and to create categories. When I speak about this I speak about that part of my job that allows me to quantify differences and populate these observations on an objective scale - to apply a language about soils at a common scientific platform. I’m also quite keen to attune to anyone receiving information about soils from me, and the better I get my message across, the stronger the shared soil learning experience. The latter exposes another motive for why I got into soil science, a challenge of common dialogue.
On our common language: no unified theory for natural scientific classification exists. Tension has always teetered between a quantifiable approach to a qualitative system. Classification is relative, in that it is a product of the human mind and it has been punctuated by changes as recently as in our Australian Classification System and since Linnaeus and Aristotle. The latter by many archetypes. Because of my country of birth I will indulge in an example: chernozem, solod, solonetz, rhendzina used in modern European soil classification originated from archetypal names used by peasant folk over ages in Poland. Generally speaking, we are now very much in the territory of two different languages and one exists in scientific journals for soil scientists and one in agricultural extension between farmers. Closing this gap occupies my motivation for both hard soil science and engagement at farm scale. We’ll always have different lingo but we can do better to intersect the two.
Me with my “Chapple” local designed hydraulic soil corer [Photo 118]
I’ve been lucky to work with a diverse group of people since being inspired by passionate soils educators spanning university lecturers to farmers. Recently I started my own soil business, primarily aimed at assisting fellow soil practitioners and industry in a technical capacity in research and investigations and with soil sampling. I have previously worked in technical roles in State government on part of a state wide (NSW) natural resources monitoring, evaluation and reporting program, on the precursor project to the subsequent development of a soil carbon benchmark matrix for central west NSW, and hydrogeological landscapes projects throughout a number of NSW catchments and local government areas encompassing frameworks for managing salinity and water sources. Recently I’ve worked with a local Catchment Management Authority on a labile carbon test and on a federally funded Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Carbon Farming Futures Project sampling soils. Day to day I provide technical assistance to fellow soil scientists and state government and initiate collaborative projects. What I greatly enjoy about my job today (is still), the inquisitive pursuit of digging holes.
Besides being out in the paddock, I really enjoy the education and communication aspect of my job. I’m dedicated to the improvement of language about soils and approach to education and effective improvement of soil health and the communities that reside there. How and why I became a soil scientist and my own approach to soil is tempered by the people that surround me in my continued learning and my epistemological approach. I am only as good a practitioner as the integrity of my networks, the questions I pose, genuine interconnections I make and of course the fun I can have on the job!
Local country around Cowra, New South Wales, Australia