At the back of our lot in Grand Junction there is a home-made compost bin that rests against the garage and faces south into the sun. Made of old wood and chicken wire, it rises from the dead weeds and detritus in that forgotten part of the yard where pruned tree limbs, bent tomato cages, broken bricks, and pieces of pvc pipe meet their final resting place. It is as far from the front of the house as anything can be on our property, and its prosaic purpose in our lives is often forgotten….particularly in the winter months when one has to slog through the snow just to empty the household compost pail. That would be the little clay urn that we keep by the sink that is mostly full of used coffee grounds and veggie trimmings.
Today was the first day in about six weeks of temperatures over 40 degrees, and it was time to empty the urn. The last several times I did this chore required me to don snow boots, wool cap, and heavy parka just to get across the yard. But today was decidedly different. For one thing, I could actually see the lawn in places where patches of flat faded grass were straining for heat and light. Other parts of the yard, suddenly freed from their icy blanket, were melting into mud bogs. In one of our raised beds four crinkled chard plants re-emerged, battered but alive.
The compost bin was in full sun, still covered with November’s leafy mulch, and dotted here and there with onion skins, broccoli stalks, and an occasional tomato peel. With a scattering motion, I emptied the urn’s soupy contents into the bin, taking satisfaction in the small bit of steam that rose from the surface. Now it was time to take pitchfork in hand and churn the whole mess into a viable mixture. As the tines broke through the crust they met resistance from stubborn pockets of ice. I found myself turning over large chunks of material rather than the loose dirt that I had expected. But as soon as the dark, dank underbelly was exposed, the ice crystals melted before my eyes. The compost began to breathe again.
And I began to breathe again. Without the mucus in my nose freezing. Without five layers of clothing on my body. At that moment about a dozen geese flew overhead in V-formation, honking loudly and heading west. And I swear I could almost see the grass unbending, the earth opening up in a broad brown smile, and the hibernating soul of myself finally thawing out on the backside of winter.