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ALANDA GREENE on the wealth and continuity of life in the process of composting, and the power of death, transformation and rebirth.

Today I feel wealthy. Knee-deep in richness. Standing in the compost, moving aside the top layer to access loamy, dark material underneath. Over and over, I fill two large buckets, carry them to the garden, pour them over cabbage leaves and carrot fronds. Then back to the bin with empty buckets, do it again. Dig a trench through the rotted, fermented, transformed vegetation, shovel the top level of the compost beside it into the trench, dig again into this body of digested leavings.

Full disclosure: I don’t compost the expert way that many do. I don’t pay attention to the layers, to the timing, to the turning; these are processes which produce enough heat to cook any weed seeds left in the material, and to transform everything to an incredibly fertile ground.

But every forkful I lift teems with worms, incredibly abundant, chewing on all that vegetable matter, digesting it, and casting it out. If I do the ‘proper’ compost method, the heat is too much for the worms. They are such amazing little wiggly gardeners, their poop is fantastically fertile and I just really like them in the garden. I just like them period. So my compost doesn’t process as well as it could, it still will have weed seeds, but it has a lot of helpful worms and in fact I have a much easier time with the composting process.

My method is to just take stuff – radish leaves and chickweed, parsley stems and dandelions – from the garden to the bin, throw it in, include lots of roots with soil on them, now and then toss a bit around and mix up some of the more processed compost with the less. Thanks to the efforts of worms and digesters like sowbugs, I get rich, fertile ground to support the next round of garden vegetables.

The bin we have is large, built on a hillside and the material gets thrown in on top and is pulled out on the downhill side looking like dark, rich loam. I take it from the bottom in spring and summer, but by autumn, it’s time to get right into the bin and move it around methodically and move it out with more gusto and quantity. Hence, today, I’m knee-deep in its richness. This process has been going on for years. Such a cycle, such wealth. Can you imagine anything more fundamentally rich and profitable than fertile, productive soil?

Our house was constructed on a hillside that was originally forested. We cleared enough for a garden and home, and the forest soil was depleted, light buff and dusty. When I began working with a grub hoe to clean out the gravel and stones, there was little left but a hole when I finished. The soil that is now deep, black, full of organic material and very productive was built up year after year. The vegetables grew and the compost grew. For all that is taken out, it seems like more comes back in.

It’s like this with a life. It can be. Building up experience, skills, knowledge, wisdom, through years of engaging with work and learning. My teacher repeatedly said, “Work is worship.”
True confession: I really didn’t get this early on, when I was getting going with building a life. So much to do, to learn, to discover. Work often felt like an annoying necessity that got in the way of doing the really good stuff. First Nations teachings include the wisdom: learning takes patience and time. After more time than patience, but having the patience to persevere, learning indeed has come, in ways not anticipated. So I’ve become a fan of many forms of perseverance and effort.

Lifting another forkful of compost, seeing the lacework of red lines that are worms, finding small, oval and many-legged sowbugs scurrying to escape the disruption, I ask myself: what if worms and bugs quit doing their continual work of breaking down this material into a once-again usable form, better than ever? My part in this is insignificant compared to their transformational magic. I just get the stuff to the bin. A bit later, I’m rich. Rich in fertile compost, rich in hard-working worms and other digesters. What if they decided not to make the effort?

Compost is a teeming, living
reminder of the power of death,
transformation, rebirth.

When I first learned about the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva – Creator, Preserver, Destroyer – I was not a big fan of Shiva. The Destroyer felt like the one responsible for my dog being hit by a car and killed, for a friend gone in a car crash, for so much pain in the lives around me that seemed caused by this destructive force. Why did Shiva have to do that?

Thankfully, my concepts about the destroying power have expanded and deepened and my understanding of Shiva has done the same. What would have happened if my adolescent concepts had not been destroyed for new learning? And of more import, as I stand in this bin of material in various stages of decomposition, what would have happened if all this compost material had not been destroyed and transformed into something else?

Rumi, so long ago, reminded us:

I died as a mineral and was born as a plant,
I died as a plant and was born as an animal,
I died as an animal and was born as a human,
When have I ever been less by dying?

Compost is a teeming, living reminder of the power of death, transformation, rebirth.

A couple of days ago I listened to a young man who recently returned to school after living two years in a spiritual community. He talked about his own learning, and about how grateful he was that his teachers had themselves gone through a lot of learning in order to be able to transfer it to others. What he understood now, whether it was yoga or woodwork, was that these teachers had made the effort to acquire knowledge, skill and wisdom in order to teach others. His aim was to give the time needed, the perseverance and effort, in order to be able to pass on his own learning to others.

It’s like the compost process: an enrichment over time, a lot gained from growth, and then all of the material becomes transformed into fertile new ground that goes back to the garden to support more growth.

True wealth.


Alanda Greene

About Alanda Greene

Alanda Greene lives in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. Having a deep connection with nature, she and her husband built their house of stone and timber and a terraced garden, and integrated their life into this rural community. Alanda’s primary focus is the conscious integration of spirit with all aspects of life.

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