Thanks to a pile of rotting garbage, I was truly happy and contented for the first time in quite a while this weekend.
Of late a combination of professional and financial worries, coupled with constant low level sickness (I got mononucleosis in law school and my immune system never seems to have recovered) have formed a steady, dull, background of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and frustration. I’ve not been a happy camper. Fortunately, last weekend dirt and compost intervened. The DC spring has been pulling its well known bait and switch routine, but last Saturday we got a truly glorious day. Last fall, she who must be obeyed (SWMBO) and I purchased a garden plot several blocks from our house. It is a 15 foot by 20 foot patch of ground under the power lines. The soil was mainly clay, so before the snow fell, SWMBO and I dug in a layer of mulch and covered the ground with decomposing leaves. On Saturday we returned to our plot to see what the winter had done. We dug in the layer of leaves and low and behold, there were now big fat earth worms in our clay. The fall’s work had done some good.
My son and I also set up a 4′x4′ chicken wire compost enclosure. I get compost from my father. Although he flirted with liberalism in the 1970s (he voted for McGovern) my dad is basically a right-wing Republican. Nevertheless, in his youth he had, I think, a fascination with the material culture of hippy-dom. I have vivid memories of his hand-carved wooden bowls as a child. This fascination bled into an interest in organic gardening (the gardening interest remains, the commitment to organic purity is gone if it was ever really there), which, coupled with President Kimball’s sermons on gardening, led to a cosmic theory of composting. Some of my earliest memories are of driving around Salt Lake with my father in my grandpa’s old truck collecting literally hundreds of bags of leaves, which were then dutifully shredded and piled for decomposition in a far corner of the yard. Later, he acquired one of those nifty compost tumblers (it looks like a bike rack being attacked by a garbage can) and continued his quest for top soil on a more modest scale. The cosmic part came from my father’s understanding of what he was doing. This was not simply a matter of making the vegetable and flower gardens marginally more healthy. This was about stewardship over God’s creation and fulfilling the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth (emphasis on replenishment of the earth). As a kid I resented the leaf collecting quests after about the 50th bag, and later I thought that my father’s eagerness to show off his compost tumbler was a bit comic. Fate, genetics, and upbringing, however, are not to be gainsaid and I am — in many ways — becoming my father. Hence our compost pile. We now have the cut off milk carton I remember so vividly from my childhood collecting scraps for our compost heap. I confess that after Jacob and I finished the chicken wire enclosure for the pile (Jacob actually spent most of the time delightedly rolling in the dirt), I had a deep, unbidden desire to show some poor and unsuspecting soul our accomplishment.
It is still too early to plant very much, but after digging for an hour or two, we put in a row of radishes out of hope and eagerness. The coming weeks, I hope, will bring rows of carrots, spinach, beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, and squash. And, of course, an every growing pile of compost. Saturday evening, after our shovels had been put away, the mud washed from our hands, and our blisters band-aided (my son was very excited about applying the band aids to daddy’s blisters), I drove to the Visitor Center of the DC Temple for the Easter concert of the Mormon Choir of Washington (of which SWMBO is a star member). As I listened to arrangements of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross,” and excerpts from Handel’s Messiah I thought of Christ’s promise of eternal life and renewal through the resurrection. The grave, like the fallow earth of winter, will yield to new life, the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall come forth. The plan of salvation, I realized, is really just another instantiation of the story of compost. The collision of experiences — digging and composting, singing and worshipping — produced in a deep, deep sense of peace, love, and well-being that has been absent from me for some time. It may be that I am nothing more than a victim of aesthetics and a desk-bound drone’s romanticizing of the earth and manual labor. Still, I can’t help but thank God for music in praise of his son’s victory over the grave, my father, and the pile of rotting garbage in the far corner of my garden plot.