Lessons from the Compost Pile

This morning found us happy to be alive. Kiddo was joyful, busy with a myriad of marbles. Joe was still home, so I went out to water the garden while life was cool and quiet. Thirty minutes of lugging the watering can back and forth (selective watering; I am not spending money to water the weeds) and then coming back in, kissing sweet husband goodbye as he headed out to work. We made scrambled eggs and I put the kettle on for my usual morning cup of tea, Kiddo at my heels.

"Can we go outside to pick berries?"

Certainly. We hadn't picked for a couple of days, which is my favorite way to go about berry picking-- coming at the Bushes of Plenty. I took my cup of tea out to the shady backyard, grateful for the overcast morning. That dear boy and I collected about a cup of blueberries from our little dwarf plants, which of course make smaller berries, then cozied in with the bees to pick at golden raspberries. The bees were busy pollinating our second round of berry flowers on canes that are reaching the roof of the garage these days. I think these are the tallest canes on that plant in my memory. We pick these raspberries not when they are gold, like you might find at the store, but when they are salmony pink and succulent and heavenly. Standing in the backyard, watching the bees dance on the robust lavender flowers, I felt satisfied deep down in my soul.

This morning was a gift. Berries in hand, we walked over to our awesome neighbor's house to share the bounty and drop Kiddo off for a playdate. Ang and his daughter, Wonder Girl, took Kiddo off on an adventure and I was left to my own thoughts for the next two hours. In the front garden, I trimmed off the dying daisies to make room for the fresher ones to shine. Old, spent alstromeria stems were pulled out to make way for the smaller new plants to grow, and a lot of iris greens were hacked down so I could have access to the green beans and tomatoes which are now loving the summer heat and producing prolifically. Although it was good to be able to see the ground that needed work, to see the spaces that needed tending, I felt a little sad that so much green had to go. Somehow, though, I thought that this was the beautiful thing about the process-- sometimes you have to clear out the pretty distractions to see what really needs one's attention. Consoling myself, I clipped an enormous bunch of deep purple butterfly bush flowers and brought them in and the house began to smell like a flower shop.

When Kiddo was dropped off, we ate lunch and then headed to the backyard. The sandbox was his busy haven and I addressed a task that had been nagging at me, namely getting the composter squared away. The lemon balm I had planted around it as a screen had begun to flower, and as much as I love lemon balm, it has the propensity to become a tenacious weed, so it had to be cleared out before it went to seed. Finally revealed, the two compartments of the composter were in a yin/yang disposition: on one side was the current compost pile, dried yard debris bitter and neglected atop a rich pile of organic matter; on the other, a small family of pumpkin plants had started to grow, green and lush. I pulled out all but one pumpkin plant on that one side, and then began to turn the decomposing matter onto itself. I got stuck; the brittle dried plants wouldn't mix with the brown goodness beneath. I decided not to worry about it at the present and got on to other task.

But Kiddo, sweet boy, found the goodness within. He told me "I want a worm". "Well, find one then."

Lesson Number One: Leaving a child to do it himself is the best first choice. I could have dug out a worm for him, but he was delighted in finding one himself. Then another. Then a bug that I wasn't sure was a biting bug or not.

Lesson Two: When in doubt, throw it back in. Sometimes, life is about taking chances, and sometimes, when you see warning signs, like yellow dots on the body of a curled-up something, it's good to let that little critter go. (Yellow, orange and red are nature's 'warning signs'. Heed the warning.)

Lesson Three: Perception is in the mind of the beholder. Kiddo walks up to me as I'm ripping dead clover out of the ground. "Mama!" he cries happily, holding his cupped hands out to show me, "Two worms are having a playdate!" He could have pretended the worms were fighting, or plain ol' wiggling but no, at the moment his beneficent mind had decided they were having a playdate.

Lesson Four: Alive or dead, everything needs water. This occurred to me later, when I'd taken stock of the dry debris. All living things need water. And to become 'live' soil, even the dead stuff needs water. The worms and slugs and snails aren't interested in dried up things, they want the juicy stuff. (Note to self: water your compost in summer!)

Lesson Five: Seek balance in all things. In this case, my compost pile is needing some green/brown (acid/alkaline) balance, so I'm heading up to the local coffee shop in the next couple days to get a big bag of grounds to add in.

and Lesson Six was learned earlier in the front yard, and proven again in back: Sometimes you have to clear out the pretty distractions to see what really needs one's attention. The lemon balm had been a too-effective screen. The citrusy scent and all the pretty green shielded me from seeing that the compost pile had needed my love.  And even if it's only a compost pile, when we do things with love, in love, they turn out so much better, even if only in our own hearts.

Nearly ten years ago, when my life was so different than it is now, beginning to work in my garden saved me. It gave me a purpose beyond what I was for other people. It gave me a chance to be quiet and reflect, to noodle on some of the bigger questions in my life and to face my feelings head on. It gave me a chance to make something real, to carve up a yard with a garden knife because the grass roots were so thick a shovel simply wouldn't go in. Every space in my gardens has been dug out, at least once, on my hands and knees with simple tools and a will that I never knew I had. Over time, thirty-plus rosebushes--and their thorns-- have been removed, replaced by less showy plants that can feed, and heal, and are a balm to my heart and a feast to my eyes and senses. Rich compost is the best love I can give them, the most nourishment I can offer. Composting is a practice to me, a way of life, returning to the garden what it has given to me without measure. A sustenance like no other.


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