Friday, July 25, 2014


by Antonio C. Antonio
July 25, 2014

A couple of months ago I conducted a seminar on the topic “Sustainable Forest Management” at the De La Salle University in Manila.  Towards the end of the seminar, I asked a rather grotesque question to the student-participants:  “If you had a choice, what would you like to be after you die?... and why?”

There was one reaction I still vividly remember.  I noticed, earlier on, that there was this particular student who was very attentive throughout the two-hour seminar.  Having recorded the proceedings in a digital recorded, I am able (even now) to accurately recall, word for word, what he said:  “Sir… I am a Catholic and I believe in life everlasting.  I believe that our spiritual life transcends beyond our physical life and that there is life after death.  Our physical body, however, will have a different fate.  It will decompose and decay into the earth… as this is the natural order of things.  So, if our physical bodies will simply go back to becoming soil, I would always choose to become a matter of five letters and one word… humus.”  He obviously picked up the word “humus” from our earlier discussion and, while the other students were seemingly oblivious and clueless, I understood perfectly what he meant. 

Now, what is humus?  “Humus is a dark, organic material that forms in soil when plant and animal matter decays.  When plants drop leaves, twigs, and other materials to the ground, it piles up.  This material is called leaf litter.  When animals die, their remains add to the litter.  Over time, the litter decomposes.  This means it decays, or breaks down into its most basic chemical elements.  Many of these chemicals are important nutrients for the soil and organisms that depend on soil for life, such as plants.  The thick brown and/or black substance that remains after most of the organic litter has decomposed is called humus.  Earthworms often help mix humus with other minerals in the soil.  Humus contains many useful nutrients for healthy soil.  One of the most important is nitrogen.  Nitrogen is a key nutrient necessity for most plants.  Agriculture depends on nitrogen and other nutrients found in humus.  Some experts think humus makes soil more fertile.  Others say humus helps prevent disease in plants and food crops.  When humus is in soil, the soil will crumble.  Air and water move easily through the loose soil, and oxygen can reach the roots of plants and trees.” (  From this short literature on humus, it not hard to believe that it contributes significantly in supporting the growth and health of crops, plants and trees.  Humus is popularly known as compost.

“In the sweat of thy face thou shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) is an age-old Biblical adage.  “Dust” was, perhaps, the only known term in the olden days… when nitrogen and humus were still unknown elements.  Nature has a way of going full circle where biotic and abiotic elements in our ecosystem will surely merge at some point.  So, if our physical bodies will eventually return to “dust”, this student chose the best life-supportive and life-sustaining matter he could be in death… humus.

Just my little thoughts…

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