Dirt: Where Does It Go?



In Dr. Seuss’s masterpiece, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, there is a famous scene where, upon draining the bathtub, a long pink ring has formed around the inside of the tub. In the cat’s attempt to clean it up, the pink spot transfers to the children’s mother’s white dress, the wall, their father’s pair of $10 shoes, a rug, their father’s bed, the television, a pan, then finally outside to the snow until all the snow becomes pink. A spectacular feat of magic is finally required to fix the situation.

Fantasy? Not really, except the part where the pink snow is magically changed back to white.

What about dirt? Like the pink bathtub stain, it never really vanishes-it just moves. Perhaps we need to consider dirt (and cleanliness) in a different way.

Think about it- what happens when you clean a spill from the counter? Perhaps you pick it up with a sponge, then wash the sponge in the sink. You’re just putting the spill into the drain and downstream- eventually into the Pacific Ocean, if you happen to live in Los Angeles. Perhaps
you clean it with a paper towel? You’re just transferring it to the garbage- and eventually to the local dump, where it resides for most of eternity. So when we clean our house, what are we really doing? Well, we’re moving as much as we can out of the house- that’s all. To the ocean, or to the dump. You can see where I’m headed with this.

So what’s the deal with dirt? We didn’t create it in the first place, so why do we feel so guilty about it? Think of all the money spent on getting rid of dirt, when in fact we’re only pushing it around. Are we making the world worse by all the things we use to clean?

Sadly, there is no spectacular magic “VOOM” like the Cat used to clean up the snow. We are doomed to simply move dirt-to put it somewhere else. In the Greek myth, Sisyphus, King of Ephyra, was condemned by Zeus to eternally push a boulder uphill. However, as soon as he would reach the top of the hill, the boulder would roll down and Sisyphus had to push it back again.

Perhaps we should relax a bit and stop pushing dirt around so much?