Monday, October 10, 2011

Lying Fallow

I've been thinking a lot about compost lately.

My neighbors and I have a new bin on order. It puzzles me how little attention composting gets in a village where what you throw out, you carry to the dump yourself. We're aiming for smaller, less smelly, and less frequent loads. And for the alchemy by which the remains of last night's meal, and last season's growth, become the matrix of new life: of worms, insects, and microbes converting nutrients; of next year's foliage and fruit nourished on the rich black leavings of that slow, dark process.

This isn't my first foray into the romance of garbage. Toronto, where I live when I'm not on an oversized spit of land jutting into the North Atlantic, is light years ahead of most American cities on matters of urban ecology and provides free bins to anyone who wants them. The compost pile's been a fixture of daily life there for years. But this is the first time I've identified so strongly with what goes into the bins.

I love seasons of growth: the burgeoning of spring, the green riot of summer; in my own life, the new adventure, the momentum of intentions coming to fruition; insights consolidated, awareness heightened, my sense of connection to the Sacred sure and full of energy, my love and compassion for those around me flowing easily out of the Love and Compassion I experience poured out upon me from that Presence.

Seasons when nothing seems to be happening next, I'm not so good at. After a summer of growth and discovery and fulfillment, I spent most of September describing myself as "needing to find traction."

Now it's beginning to dawn on me that the lesson that's staring me in the face isn't to be learned by getting the wheels to turn, but by looking down at what lies on the ground--a season's fallen foliage, awaiting slow transformation.

The outdoor altar I've tended the last year and a half goes on teaching me. Divided into upper and lower levels, it betrays its origins as a long-disused brick barbecue. Above, it's open to the light, facing south and warmed by the midday sun, a few tiny plants inexplicably rooted in the crumbling mortar. Below, a dark recess belongs not to the well-lit clarity above, but to the ants that have colonized the chinks and to sowbugs milling beneath the detritus that shelters them.

The upper platform is now cleared, since Equinox, of many of the objects that had been part of my morning and evening practice--but the floor of its lower chamber remains layered with leaves and withered blossoms from summer's prayers and offerings. Gently turning these remnants of a season of my life now past, I find the bottommost stratum of rich, moist decay and carefully restore an alarmed earthworm to the safety of the dark. Praying as my hands make contact with the unseen workings of God's dark, fallow fecundity, I reach toward the lesson I need to learn now.


  1. the lesson of composting (yes, I do) and Fall for me, is that there is no such thing as death but rather each thing, including "me", is a temporary transient arrangement of energy and mass that with a turn of the kaleidoscope's cylinder rearranges into a new configuration just as wonderful and unique and as evanescent as the one before and, in turn, the cylinder will turn again and again displaying a dazzling infinite array: and to know that "I" have been momentarily part of this glorious cyclic recycling humbles, enlivens and en-joys me

    David - thanks for awakening my muse as light begins to transform darkness, into shadow, into defined shape before I leave for the quotidian treadmill, TaN

  2. I just came across this poem and thought it fit well with your entry:

    Talking to God on the Seventh Day -- Ruth L. Schwartz

    Talking to God on the Seventh Day

    You're not so sure about this world?
    Listen. Take another look:

    the joyful reckless
    barking dogs, convinced of doom, hysterical,
    or only proud to own the yard,
    the block, the wind --
    the raised welt of their voices
    roughening your dreams.

    The new leaves slightly bent, like
    fingers on guitar,
    rippling their chord of twigs --
    and the still-bare
    slingshot branches,
    naked as the tails of rats,
    liminal as roots.

    The squirrel crushed in the road,
    its tail still
    waving, in the wind of
    passing cars, a flag,
    and the blackest of black crows,
    breaching the body
    with its surgeon beak --

    black needles of its feet so pleased
    with death,
    which is also meat, and life.
    Another squirrel, its rapid jaws

    muttering around a nut:
    My number not up yet not yet bub not yet --

    Now tell me why you ever thought
    you could improve on this

    music, this hunger.