Which Way?

I’ve tried composting lots of different ways:

…worm bins made out of Target plastic drawers on wheels, passively aerated piles with perforated PVC pipes buried underneath, plastic garbage bins buried, then filled, lidded, and left for a year or more, long enough to become quite a popular raccoon latrine (left, with three, large pinecone deterrents),

…a three-bin system without the three bins (right) that ends up moving around the space like slime mold, I’ve tried in the garden or just outside of the garden, composting toilets,

…and the longest running compost bin I have–15 years running–the rubbermaid vermicompost bins in our garage, my constant compost companions. Spider webs trail over their sides, spider eggs nestle in their crevices, food transforms in their depths. They froze solid for two weeks this winter, and then surprised me with what can only be described as freshly resurrected worms, happily wriggling through winter leftovers as I peeked in on them just this morning.

I’ve tried composting lots of different things:

…underwire bras, sports bras, cotton socks, Wonder Bread, sourdough starter, my first n95 mask, coconut shells, teeth, chickens, t-shirts, fabric, lint, hair, underwear, baking parchment, tampons, and fancy paper plates.

Curiosity, playfulness, creativity, despair, and hope fueled all of these compost experiments. What will compost? What won’t? Where is the best place to do it, here or there? Can I compost anywhere? In a box (I haven’t tried that yet), with a fox (a PH.D. student studying biodynamic compost told me she found a fox curled on top of a warm compost pile), can I compost all my socks (yes, but it takes a couple years)?

Compost piles aren’t really definable or measurable, they are only utterly possible at all times and everywhere. 

Truth is, composting is as unique to each person, location, diet, gardening habits, and local available materials as fingerprints and snowflakes. The bacteria and fungus waiting for a safe space, enough food, water, oxygen, and time, will gladly accept what you have to offer them.

So which way? Any way that works in your life, in your family’s life, in your garden’s life, in the life of the tree that stands watch over the compost, in the field mouse that burrows beneath it during the winter or the fox that curls on top in the winter, the old pair of shorts that began their life in the cotton fields of India and ended in your compost, and in the billions of invisible microbes’ lives waiting to transform what you ate into plant food that will grow what you will eat in the future.

Life, death, life.

Compost accepts everyone’s leftovers—grief, boredom, regrets, a new job, the loss of a loved one, sickness, death–lets them stay and change over time. The invaluable result, humus, is the miracle of each person’s leftovers piled, watered, turned, and cured.

When I wake up on Saturday and life feels stable and peaceful, that’s a good time to visit stockpiles of old grass, kitchen waste, leaves, and garden trimmings, and gratefully start a new compost heap.

When I wake up on Saturday and begin to feel the edges of hopelessness, fear, and grief for the earth and humanity creep in and paralyze me, that’s a good time to go outside and dig into the leftovers that have gone cold, turn them, water them, and feel the warmth start to build again. The heat signature of transformation. 

By giving careful attention to compost in any form—gathering leftovers and letting microscopic life forms recycle them—tomb becomes womb. Nothing and no one is wasted.

I do my best to care for and to watch, to be gentle with failure, to make sure my lantern is lit, to visit the tomb early Sunday morning and learn to recognize resurrection when I see it wriggling through kitchen scraps or rising as steam from the generative warmth of a compost pile.

Where and what will you try to compost? Send me a message, and we can be curious and playful together!

The world tilts

There is more than one way to mark darkest of night.
Newgrange in Ireland flooded with light.
A stone shed in sand filled with starlight and strangers,
holds oxen and donkey, a child-filled manger.
In Ohio the serpent mound coils away.
The Mayans in Tikal are still marking the days.
In Montana a stick thrust deep into the snow,
and for twelve days Yule fires will grow and will grow.
So the birth of the sun and the Son are the same,
crossing thresholds from darkness to light with one name.
Before glittering things that imprison our eyes,
all the paper and plastic and stuff money buys,
was silence and stillness, coldness and bleak,
the slow march of winter on two frost bitten feet.
Before the vice grip of new, fast electronics,
were birds tweeting carols, celestial phonics.
Owls in the twilight, frogs in brumation,
soft fur of hare, the bear’s hibernation.
Do not forget what this slow time is for,
a Light in the darkness, a knock at the door.
Welcome! Welcome! Invite illumination
to come in, to rush in!
Holy perturbation.

Composting back to life

Compost connects leftovers to new life

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.