Dust To Dust


It’s everywhere. It’s under your bed. It’s on the road. It’s in the air. It’s on Mars. What is it? It’s dust. For something that’s apparently everywhere, we sure don’t think about dust much. It’s time to dust off your thinking cap and learn something about this ubiquitous substance.

What is dust? Your answer is likely to be similar to what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about obscenity. It’s not easy to define, but you know it when you see it. You may not be able to spit out a definition for dust, but you know it’s what is covering the floor under your bed that hasn’t been swept since who knows when.

Dust really isn’t that hard to define. Basically it is fine bits of matter that hang in the air and settle on surfaces. Run your finger along the top of a nearby bookcase for demonstrative Exhibit A as to what dust is.

Big deal, you are thinking. Dust is merely an annoyance that requires us to use elbow grease to clean our houses every now and then. Wrong! Dust plays a big role in our universe and in our day to day lives.

According to scientist Joe Hanson, everything in our solar system began with a cloud of dust. Cosmic dust is prevalent in space where gas and dust clouds serve as precursors to planetary bodies. Carl Sagan poetically described Earth as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Once planets are formed, dust covers a solid planetary body. Dust storms on Mars are so massive that they cover almost the entire planet. Please adjust your idea of Martians being little red-men to being dust-covered little red men.

So there’s dust in outer space. What does that have to do with us here on Earth? Cosmic dust, also referred to as space dust, commonly falls onto our planet. According to one estimate, as much as 40,000 TONS of cosmic dust reaches the Earth’s surface annually.

Space dust which has fallen from the heavens is not the only dust with which we Earthlings come in contact. We create plenty of our own dust through industrial operations and transportation activities. Thirty-three percent of air pollution is caused by dust kicked up off the road by vehicles.

Of course, natural phenomena produce dust as well. For example, the wind may pick up bits of dirt or sand and carry it off through the air. The Sahara Desert is the major source of mineral dust here on Earth, an estimated 60-200 million tons each year. Reportedly a trainload of dust is carried off from the Sahara every four seconds. Saharan dust  can be lifted by convection from hot desert areas and reach high altitudes. From there it may be transported worldwide by winds. The hot, dry air of the Sahara Desert sometimes combines with the dust to form an atmospheric layer known as the Saharan Air Layer. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a dust dune.

But all this dust is outdoors. We’re safe inside our homes, right? Uh, no. Scientists tell us that it is impossible not to have any dust in your house. And 2/3 of the dust we find indoors is from the outside. That dust is tracked in on your shoes or your pet’s paws. It blows in when you open a door or window or comes in through a vent.

Even if you sealed your house off from outside contaminants, dust would still be in your house. One-third of the dust is generated indoors. The major source of this dust is dead human skin cells. Each adult sheds about 1 1/2 grams of skin every day. Please remember that when you are scolding Fluffy for shedding on the couch. Fabric bits also contribute to indoor dust. Textiles, particularly carpets, trap dust as well as creating it when they disintegrate.

Dust may be made up of small particles, but over time those particles  add up. According to Maria Popova, a foot of dust can accumulate in a span of over three centuries. What a mess your house would be if you don’t dust for 300+ years! Note to self: Dust at least once a century.

Dust is constantly being created (you shed dead skin cells each day), so dusting your house is a never ending task. If you don’t clean regularly, you may inadvertently end up with a less than desirable household pet–a dust bunny. A small clump of dust that forms under furniture and in corners that are not cleaned regularly is called a dust bunny. And you know how bunnies reproduce rapidly….

The presence of dust in your house also means the presence of disgusting bugs known as dust mites. These are tiny bugs in the spider family who live in household dust and feed off of dead skin cells. YUK! These bugs are also related to ticks and are non-biting; however, they can be an allergen. Bed linens are one of a dust mite’s favorite locations. This fact should give you nightmares even if you are awake.

We’ve worked our way down from outer space to the natural environment of Earth to inside our house. How about the human body? Genesis 2:7 relates that God formed man out of the dust of the ground. Indeed the human body is composed of materials and minerals found on the surface of the ground.

And what happens to the human body upon death? If you’ve ever been to a funeral you’ve probably heard the phrase “dust to dust.” Ecclesiastes 3:21 states: “all are of dust, and all turn to dust again.” The human body will decompose and turn into–you guessed it, dust. As Kansas sings, “All we are is dust in the wind.” And Queen would add, “Another one bites the dust.”

Even though we may not contemplate dust and its importance in the circle of life, we do mention dust in everyday conversation. If we get into a fight, we say we have had a “dust up.” In our competitive society, one may say someone he’s bested has “eaten my dust” or was “left in the dust.” In baseball, a pitcher may dust a batter off who is crowding the plate.

Dust is a fact of life. It’s above us in the skies. It’s below us under our beds. It’s around us in the air. It’s where we’ve come from and what we will ultimately be. Aren’t you glad you’ve dusted up on this subject?


Have you ever stopped to think about what dust is? How many dust mites do you think inhabit your home along with you? Did you realize that there is dust in outer space? How often do you dust your house? Will you do it more frequently after reading this post?



Book ‘Em!

In case you’ve had your nose in a book and missed the news, this week is National Library Week. The theme for the 2018 observation is “Libraries Lead.” Ho, hum.  A better theme would be “Book “Em!”

Those who don’t frequent libraries because they are glued to the boob tube, will associate the phrase “Book ‘Em!” with the “Hawaii Five-0” TV series.  In this police drama the bad guys inevitably were caught; after detailing their bad deeds, Steve McGarrett (played by actor Jack Lord) would turn and say, “Book ‘Em, Danno!”  Off to the pokey went the criminal–er, alleged criminal.  (Since I have grown up to be an attorney, I realize that the arrestee is presumed innocent until proven guilty.)  Bet the crook would rather have gone to a library than to jail.

Since TV was not a part of my daily routine as a child, I read regularly and voraciously.  And from whence did these books come?  From our local library, of course.  To me, the local library was akin to a travel agent for those seeking to take a vacation.  The books on the shelves at the library offered me the opportunity to  travel back in time, travel forward in time, travel into an imagined world and travel across the globe.  It was up to me to decide where I wanted to go by selecting the book that caught my fancy.

In the summers my mom took us to the local library at least once a week.  I would pick out a stack of books to check out to keep me occupied during the long lazy days of summer vacation stretching before me.  What a momentous event it was when I became old enough to have my own library card.  I was as excited as a 16 year old would be getting a driver’s license.  The books available to me at the library could take me places–some totally inaccessible by car.  I didn’t even have to have gas money to go to far off places in my mind; I simply needed to open a book.

National Library Week was first observed in 1958, but libraries have been around since the earliest days.  Well, maybe there wasn’t a library in the Garden of Eden, but I bet Adam would have appreciated access to Gardening For Dummies..  Libraries did exist in the ancient world though.  I saw the ruins of one while on a tour of Ephesus in Turkey.  Given its size, it appears that the Ephesus library was a pretty popular place to hang out in its day.  But its patrons may have had to “Scroll ’em” instead of “Book ’em.”

Americans can thank good old Ben Franklin for the first library in the United States.  It was established in 1731 in Philadelphia.  I am not sure about the healthy and wealthy part, but this Founding Father may have been wise from taking advantage of the knowledge available in the books shelved in the library of the City of Brotherly Love.

Americans think we are #1.  And we are, at least when it comes to having the world’s largest library.  The Library of Congress holds over 155 million items.  How big is this library?  It is so big that it is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill.

Unfortunately, today people are more likely to want to go to Starbucks than to their local library.  That’s a shame, especially since, according to Chiff.com, there are actually more public libraries than Starbucks in the United States. Statista.com states that there were 8,222 company-owned Starbucks in the U.S. as of January 2017.  That means that there are not only lots of barristas out there, but that there are even more books.  Sure, Starbucks will sell you some caffeine to stimulate your body, but your local library will give you the chance to stimulate your mind for free.

Today’s library isn’t Ben Franklin’s or even your parents’ library.  Libraries are no longer simply repositories for books.  They provide access to computers for patrons’ use, offer movies and audio recordings (music and books) for checkout, and host special programs for citizens of all ages.  A library in my local area has given me the chance to hear a lecture by a renowned scientist, witness a cooking demonstration, and experience the joy of adult coloring.  Kids are offered story time, book clubs, etc.  As an involved Mimi, I even went to a sing along time for toddlers with my grandson at his local library in another state.  (Don’t worry.; there was a special room for the activity so no librarian or patron had to say “Shhh!)

Where would we be without libraries?  I shudder to think.  Why, I’d never be able to afford to buy all the books I want to read,  And if you want peace and quiet, the library is the place for you.  You won’t hear folks yakking on cell phones because the focus is on reading, not talking, there.

The library holds a special place in my heart.  I have fond memories of trips to the library as a child and fond memories of taking my own children to the library when they were young.  Let’s be sure to patronize our local libraries so that their existence does not become simply a memory.  While it is all well and good to celebrate libraries one week a year, make it a point to take advantage of what libraries have to offer on a regular basis.  Trips to the library–book ’em!