A gentle meditation on compost, love, and grief.
An uncommonly reflective (perhaps melancholy?) missive.
A friend asked me why I like compost so much. Truthfully, I do not know. Compost is a weird thing to be obsessed with, and I’ve had my share of hesitant moments when people ask me: “What do you do for a living?”
Compost is everything. It’s fun and it’s gross, and I love gross stuff. It’s scientific, but also outright poetic. It’s iterative and ritualistic; intimate and interconnected. It involves caring (one “tends” to their compost), but also brute strength. I’ve never been stronger than when I have composted. It seems that very few things play to this specific mixture of human needs—to be forceful, and also loving—but compost is one of them. It feels like an inherently compassionate practice, helping one seek and inhabit that luminous space where life and death will find each other.
Once a friend tearfully confessed to me that she had mistaken her flowers, pre-bloom, for weeds, and had yanked them up for garbage. “I turned life into death!” she cried. “They’re the same,” I replied.
We took the flower stalks and chopped them up for compost, layering them into a pile in her yard, to which we added food scraps and coffee grounds (nitrogen), and dead leaves (carbon) that we raked up from nearby. Later, from the finished compost, the flowers grew again.
Life into death!
Another time I got a catalog in the mail from a glamorous “plant estate” that I hate, so I burned it in a metal bucket and used the ashes for my compost. I like using compost to get rid of bad energy, like casting a spell. It’s magic.
I’ve composted a lot of memories: my ex-boyfriend’s award-winning photobook, his letters. Some ticket stubs. We’re perfectly good friends now, so I think that worked. I’ve made compost from my body. My hair and my nails and—after I accidentally chopped my finger with a gardening knife—my blood.
Compost can also be good for grief.
People who have experienced great loss will tell you that grief never leaves you, it just evolves into a quieter form. If you’re lucky, it’s one you can endure. I’ve composted objects for friends who want closure on loss, but can’t bear to either throw something away or keep it around anymore. Composting presents a third option. Instead of destroying a sacred thing, we can help it transform. Once ushered into the invisible nutrient cycles of a healthy soil, it will exist forever: permanently changed, endlessly alive, and giving life to others.
Recently, a fairly established artist approached me about working with him on some pieces for two of his upcoming gallery shows. In the first, he’s been presented with chunks of the Berlin Wall to make something with, and he wondered if I could help him compost the concrete. Yes, why not? Concrete is made of cement, sand, gravel, and air. Cement is made primarily of limestone and either sand or clay. All can be biodegraded, more easily once ground up, and although there are other chemicals of concern (aluminum, lead), we maybe be able to mediate those once the compost has matured. Perhaps we can plant sunflowers in the finished product.
Bette Midler once said:
“My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that let’s you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap.”
Sounds right to me.
I love you,