There isn’t anything quantitative or qualitative about my need for more topsoil. I feel like I need more topsoil. The dirt looks too sandy in the garden and it bothers me in a way that I cannot define or resist. I must have more topsoil. I have to pump the tire up on the wheelbarrow and start digging into the compost pile but that’s the greatest source of topsoil I know of on earth. I made this. I created a tiny pile of paper and leaves years ago and now it’s a dynamo for topsoil. It’s the way things ought to be in a very small place.
How can a person have a compost pile, use the compost pile, turn the compost pile, maintain the compost pile, and still want to be buried in a concrete box, the body human gutted and pumped full of deadly chemicals? In the compost pile all things return to whence they came to be turned into everything that is, naturally occurring. The compost pile has become a megatropolis, where there are thousands of small creatures, each of them hard at work in keeping the pile alive, some eating the leaves and paper in the pile, and others eating the first, but all making soil from their efforts. The giant cardboard boxes I put into the pile a month ago are now remnants. I dig down deep for the black, rich, soil and find clues as to what went in; a paper egg carton, parts of egg shells, paper towels, the cardboard tube of toilet paper rolls, boxes, and a host of other clues as to who I am and what I consume. But it is not enough just to toss stuff into a pile and wait. Oh no, the compost pile needs attention, like any large city does.
I take a pitchfork and turn the pile, all of it, huge as it is, at least one a week. Stuff on top becomes stuff on the bottom. Stuff that is new begins to get scattered out and mixed in with the old. The denizens of the pile go through a Godzilla like attack one a week and they scurry to rebuild their shattered lives. And like their human counterparts, there are always those who seek to prey on the displaced and homeless; toads rush in as I turn, not seeking to flee but braving the pitchfork to snap up small insects that are suddenly in the open and fair game. They love it when termites are turned out and turned over. There is nothing better to the toads than termites.
There are earthworms aplenty in the pile and I see that as a sign things are working well. Remember, this all started out a few years ago as a pile of leaves and wet paper. I carried it all out of the house in one grocery bag. Now, I have my own source of soil that’s already grown vegetables for three seasons. I’ve been trying to grow the compost pile bigger so that next year I can expand.
The fuel that drives the compost pile is water. Unlike some people, I toss into my compost pile large chunks of rotted wood. These hold moisture very well and as big a pain as they are during turning, I think they are worth it. Every year I’ve set up a sprinkler to keep the pile moist and you wouldn’t believe how dry leaves will keep a compost pile. Every wonder how thatched roofs came to be? Even after a hard rain, three or four inches of rain, I could still find dry spot deep in the mulch pile when I turned it. Without moisture the pile decomposes much more slowly and some places, not at all.
This year the firepit flooded in a very big way so I’ve had free water. Lots and lots of free water and I’ve been using it like there is no tomorrow and one day there won’t be. The five gallon bucket has to be dipped in the deeper parts of the flooded area so I have to wade into the water to get there. Wade in, dip the bucket, wade back out, pour the water on the pile, and repeat until exhaustion sets in. I count how many trips I make until the writing you see here begins to form in my head and distracts me. Gardening is that kind of work; you can write in your head while working the soil with your hands.
A water bug, one of those giant ones, finds himself in the pile and flails until I recapture him and send him home again. The water in the flooded area is rich with floating and nearly floating detritus and I wonder if this isn’t the best water ever, for a compost pile. I feel like I need The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to help me with this. Bucket after bucket, gallon after gallon, the dry spots become wet, the pile will now be ready for the hot afternoon sun and a process as old as life itself will be kick started into a higher gear.
The muscles are sore and the mosquitoes are hungry. I yearn for some process that after I die I become what I see in front of me in the compost pile. I want to return to the earth. I want to be part of the cycle of life that I keep going around me. I would like to be buried in this pile, to be part of this part of this particular piece of ground. I would like for who I once was to become a leaf in one of these trees, an acorn for one of these squirrels to carry, a home for an earthworm, in some deep dark corner of a compost pile. I have the right, I believe, to be released to the same earth that I arose from, and I think we all should see this as an obligation to return.