On Being a Worm (and other lessons from the compost pile)

Before I knew that doctor appointments would take up two of the week’s work days, I had committed to being a driver for Jeb’s school field trip.  Once a week the children gather at a nearby organic farm where they experience every aspect of growing food – from seed to harvest.  They eventually sell their produce at their school’s farmer’s market.

Yesterday was compost.  One by one, the children step up to a large bin on a scale and add their weekly bucket of food scraps to the heap.  Everyone gathers around the slop, many with their noses tucked beneath their collars, as our farm leader looks and inspects each contribution cheerfully.

“Yes, this one has had a lot of air.  A good fresh batch.  This is great.  Oops, a few stickers on the banana peels.  Let’s just get those off.”

She sorts her fingers through the decomposing food without a trace of hesitation.

Another bucketful gets added and the children have to step back not to be splashed by the slush.  The scent of ripe and rotting scraps wafts warmly in the air.

“Ooooh!” says one of the children, pointing at the new addition.

“Yes,” says our farm leader, matter-of-factly, “this is more chicken food than what we want, ideally, for our compost pile.  Does anyone know what those are?”

The five and six year olds don’t answer right away.

“Those are maggots and they come from flies when flies lay their eggs.”  She goes on to explain the life cycle of a fly and then suggests that we don’t let the compost sit around quite so long.

“Make sure you bring your compost every week,” she says with an encouraging smile.

Jeb and I haven’t brought compost at all.  We have a system of our own at home.  But I think about how all the children and parents have gathered around to see the different bucket contents revealed.  I can tell that Maria’s family had beets that week and it’s clear that Adian’s parents drink lots of coffee.

photo by Jessica Dofflemyer - all rights reserved

I may be brave enough to reveal my heart’s inner longings and the biology of my womb on WordPress to a world of strangers, but I feel way too private to show my compost to the peering eyes at our neighborhood farm.

This week’s contribution weighs in at 65 stinking pounds.  Flies swarm and the children’s olfactories are hitting max capacity.  Applause all around for what will be a great addition to the farm soil and the saving of space in our island land fill.

Our sweet farm leader with her strong, tanned arms and well-worn, woven hat takes us to the big compost pile where food scraps are transforming into rich fertilizing soil.There is a formula of layering.  Wet, dry, soil.  She shovels our wet slosh to the top of the pile, layers dry banana leaves on top and then adds  scoops of earth.  We all repeat the formula together.

“Wet, dry, soil.”

The magic recipe for transforming old into new.

My metaphoric mind and I turn over the layers of life’s lessons.  Which ones are wet?  Which ones are dry?  And what would be the soil?

“Hey, there’s a worm!” one child exclaims as our farm guide adds more earth to the heap.

“That’s right, he’s a good helper for our pile,” she confirms.

One child asks about how they breathe as the worm is buried in another scoop of dirt.  The adults are amused and stumped.

Ever-positive, our farmer says, “That’s a good area of study.  We’ll have to find out more about the respiratory system of a worm.”  She’s smiling.  “They certainly are breathing!”

It’s hot, the kids are thirsty and the compost smells.  I’d been resistant to this farm trip because I didn’t think I could afford to miss more work.  But occasionally Jeb will come over, put his arm around me and squeeze.  He’s happy to share a moment standing in the new carrot sprouts.

courtesy of My Anatomy from University of Illinois Extenstion

I’ve got my own inner compost pile to sift.  Stacking the wet of deep-seeded funk with the brittle truth of dry.  There will be worms and maggots and even butterflies that are not beneficial but nothing goes to waste here in the garden.  We use what we’re given, work with the elements, learn to transform. To grow.

Back at home I discover that worms breathe through their skin instead of lungs.  As long as they stay wet they can absorb the oxygen.  I liken the wet of worm to the openness of human feeling.  May I stay supple and fluid to life’s lessons.  Allow my feeling heart to flow.  Let my instincts guide the rooting through the darkness, transforming muck into something rich and good.

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