Students may write hundreds of essays and papers throughout their educational journey. For many of them, this may be done with great reluctance, especially if the essay or report has to be done on a topic they have little interest in.
Each year, Lincoln County sixth graders have a mandatory essay to write on soil and water science. For Daniel Overbay, now a seventh-grader at East Lincoln Middle School, this assignment was one he did with pleasure. Overbay’s essay, “The Living Soil,” not only won the local essay competition sponsored by the Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District, it also won first place in the statewide competition.
Ultimately, Overbay said that he’d like to be a geologist and if that doesn’t work out, he’d become a park ranger. Overbay has a geologist pen pal who’s currently in New Zealand studying glacier rock formation.
The annual essay contest corresponds to the sixth grade course study and field trip, according to Kimberly Rehfuss, sixth-grade science teacher. This is how students get the topic they are to write on for the soil and water essay competition. Overbay’s honors English teacher, Tara Kane encouraged Overbay and his fellow students throughout the process of writing the essay.
“Honors students are innated motivated, to a degree,” she said. “They compete against themselves. They write the essay for science and then those selected get an extra bonus from me.”
Rehfuss checks the essays for science content and Kane grades for the mechanics.
“I give them a certain prescription for how they have to write so that’s also difficult to do in certain content areas,” she said. “There’s some words that they can’t use when they write such as ‘it.’ ‘I would, could or should,’ ‘like’ or ‘very.’ This forces them to be slightly more creative. Their paragraphs have to be at least nine sentences long which gets them to think through a thought rather than just throwing something out there.”
The essay for the soil and water competition must be an essay, not a report which Rehfuss said some students struggle with. It also has to be written from a personal point of view. Overbay cleverly chose to write from the soil’s point of view rather than his own. The word count is to be between 300 to 500 words and the essay must be typed.
Overbay’s essay traces soil’s creation from rock formations to its destruction by a combination of cumulative over-farming, use of chemicals and then clearing for development.
“We need the soil so it can help us,” he said. “If you don’t take care of it, it can’t take care of us. We can take care of it through conservation methods and stopping erosion. It doesn’t help clear-cutting all of the trees and plants because then the soil has nothing to hold it down.”
Overbay, who lives on the eastern side of the county sees all of the development that’s going on around him and he believes that some of these developments have been done without taking conservation into account which has led to erosion. He’s been a boy scout throughout much of his childhood which has contributed to his passion for conservation.
“They should help the environment more and do more conservation methods,” he said. “It would be bad if all the soil were eroded away.”
“The Living Soil”
By Daniel Overbay
In the beginning, I was there. Alone. Untold ages ago, immense plates smashed together, creating me. Glaciers crushed me, forces from the depths pushed me skyward. Then, over millions of years, rain washed me, the sun pounded me, frost and snow chipped away at me, and the wind nibbled at my face. As time went by, I changed. No longer alone, all around me was my changed self—no longer hard or firm, I was home to billions of organisms. At first, they were only tiny—microscopic—but as time went on, more and more came to call me home. At last, tall trees grew over me, animals burrowed in me, and we existed peacefully together, evolving slowly over the long years.
Then, came the people. At first, they came in small groups, and they dug only small holes in me with wooden sticks, using ground up fish bones for fertilizer to build back the living soil they had taken. Then, a new people came. With them, came their plows. These cut through me, tearing me. I bled, eroding my nutrients. At first, they used only small plows, pulled by animals, and used their waste to make me fertile again. But their crops—especially their cotton—drained the life from me. Then came their tractors, giant monsters that crawled over me, compacting me, gouging me more deeply. They tried spreading chemicals over me to make me more productive, but they killed the tiny organisms that made me alive, and the excess chemicals spilled out into streams and lakes, spreading poison.
Then, came the bulldozers. They smashed what was left of me, scraping the life away, down to my bones. Now my living soil has nothing to hold it down—no trees, no plants, no cover. They have put in black plastic fences to hold me down, but when it rains, I flow through them, spilling out into lakes and rivers, always moving downhill. Why didn’t they care for me? How will they feed themselves? When I have tumbled and streamed away, silting up their water sources, what will they do? I have lived for billions of years. Will they?