At Rainbow Grocery, an obviously modified gumball machine. It sells clods of dirt, with wildflower seeds embedded in them.

It has an interesting effect on people. When I first passed by the machine, a middle-aged Indian man in chinos was embracing it and staring into its depths with this soulful intensity, like maybe it held the answer to all of life’s questions.

It might. I haven’t bought a dirt clod yet.

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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