An Ode to Compost

I love composts. I love the fact that I can throw away any amount of unused food and not feel guilty about being wasteful because I know that nothing I put into that compost bin is ever wasted. It will find its way back into some simpler, more basic state and become food not only for worms, but for next year’s flowers and vegetables. What I do not eat today, I will eat at some point.

I love shredding my old drafts of writing and commending them to the compost as well. I like that my words find their way into my mother’s garden—that her work and mine are united somehow in a dually poetic and mundane way. I know that my words will be safe in the compost. I can trust the microbes to chew them gently, to keep the secrets of my ill formed ideas, my inelegant turns of phrase. I love putting my old drafts onto the compost because it feels hopeful to me. So I didn’t get it right this time; it’s okay, out of these efforts will grow new seeds—all the more fertile for the nutrients offered up by their predecessors.

I love the unexpected things that grow out of composts. This year, it was a gargantuan pumpkin plant that crept carefully out of luscious soil and crawled all over the backyard. It is no wonder to me that fairytales deal in pumpkins. They are among the most enchanted looking plants—the determined corkscrews that grip, the huge silver-green leaves tenting the new fruit, the lead branch that rears up like a preying mantis as it explores the world.

It nearly always irritates me when I watch a TV show or movie that uses Tarot cards as a storytelling device. Believe me, I get the draw; tarot cards are exciting and magical. But they are not as spooky (if at all) as all those film representations would have us believe. What really irks me is when, inevitably, the final card is turned over and, once again, it is the Death card. As the audience, we are meant to be frightened, put on our guard, for here it is, death is coming. But the truth is, in real-life Tarot, the Death card rarely signifies a physical death, it is simply a harbinger of change—often of a positive nature. I think Michael Tierra and Candis Cantin describe it best in their book The Spirit of Herbs: A Guide to the Herbal Tarot (1993). “Death of the old is necessary for the new to emerge. The old is like a compost heap, full of rich experiences from which new forms emerge.”

I love this idea. It is clear that we must live in the present. There is no time other than right now, but it is also true that our personal histories do inform each present moment—but it doesn’t follow that this impact must be negative. That rotten, inedible tomato from long ago can produce a therapeutic echinacea flower if only we have the patience and stillness to let the past break down—to discard the unusable parts, and sift through to find the portions that are still nutrient-rich and ready to contribute to the marvel of growing something new and beautiful.