When anything once alive dies and is put in a compost pile, microscopic life forms begin their work of living and dying. They break down organic matter into tinier and tinier pieces, more elemental with each pass through their microscopic bodies. They eat and live and also die, until all that has died becomes entirely new—a particle of nitrogen or carbon, a trace mineral, a salt—so it can be taken up again into plant roots, into animals and human bodies, into trees, then fall back down to the soil as sticks, leaves, bones, and flesh. We label this up and down rhythm life and death—a beginning and then an end. But death it is not the end with compost, rather it is the beginning of something new. I do not completely understand how the transformation happens. Science can explain the invisible process in books, but I go out to the compost pile on a regular basis to observe and maybe absorb a little of the mystery that gives life to our human and earthly bodies.
There is not just one way to compost. It can be done in many ways, and all of them lead to a rich source of life for the soil. I admit that composting is not always fun, like riding a roller coaster or going to a movie is fun. It is not always easy, like throwing away food is easy. It can be mundane, messy, and sometimes annoying. Composting is a mindful act—a decision to humbly take responsibility for our own waste. I found, once I committed myself to it and carved out the time to care for my own waste, that I had invisible helpers. I created a big pile of smelly, clumpy, sloppy waste, but a mysterious collaboration of earthly life transformed it into sweet smelling, crumbly, richly dark humus—the building block of life in the soil. I also noticed that I was more forgiving of my own “garbage.” My life’s leftovers—the sadness and pain I usually put a lid on and never wanted to deal with—were uncovered, held, observed, and worked into my life with love. I began to feel more whole.
I invite you into the messy, mundane, mysterious, and restorative life of compost.