It has been the Addled Era, a time of being consistently disturbed and off base, my thoughts corkscrewing around nothing and everything. Take the garden. There is something happening there, and having to do the simplest Archimedean principles of volume and displacement, and yet the whole thing obsesses me. I take pride in having brought to a halt, more or less, the grinding and flushing of kitchen scraps down the sink, a.k.a., garbage disposal. For a year or more virtually everything has gone into my compost tumbler and down the Bacterial Road to decomposition.
The Filth Eaters are a staple deity among an indigenous tribe of French Equatorial Africa, thus my unending education at the Minnesota Men’s Conference. Such a good thing, the eating of filth, the ingestion and breaking down of waste. As for my fascination with the process, well that is another matter.
In the present, not to mention the concrete and material, I am running out of space. Decomposition, it seems, goes only so far. Both of my raised beds are raising their levels. Each has become so full that routine watering from a garden hose drives soil over the edge, down the wooden supports, and into the pathways. I don’t know what I expected. That rubbish would decay forever, everything disappearing into zero volume? And at least one bed has become a subterranean home for tree roots, the neighbor’s oak having ascertained that burrowing into the rich, loose soils just beyond the fence is an easy and efficient route to nourishment. Which raises another problem, if you are me. How to decompose the oak roots. Volunteer Paul has been ripping them out, but what then? They are biomaterial, after all. But I have given myself a pass on this one. They are woody, this is my judgment. No need to try to make wood rot. The oak roots can go into the city’s biomass system. I wash my hands of the matter.
Washing one’s hands is an extremely good idea after handling the compost tumbler, by the way. It is an odoriferous thing, the plastic door only opened when necessary. On a warm day, its decompositional odors verging on the embarrassing. Good thing it’s up against the back wall, as far from any neighboring apartment as one can manage. And a biodegradable metaphor for some other life process currently under way. Siblings in my family have been having some difficult discussions over old matters. The details are beside the point. The effects are most remarkable. This has stirred up some rather intense feelings in me. And forced me down the road of another bout of Facing What Must Be Faced. Just when one had had enough of this sort of thing…there is more.
How interactions between siblings can be so intense so late in life…well, upon reflection, it is hardly surprising. It’s like the eyewitnesses to some disaster getting together and, first, reliving the experience. Then noting discrepancies in their accounts, moving on to discussions, then arguments, about who saw what, who saw more of what, who got hit by the debris and who didn’t. Reminding me that the milk of human kindness and the spirit of generosity did not ooze out of my childhood self. I felt desperate most of the time, and it was everyone for himself. Which has left us siblings fractured. And yet, it must be noted, working rather hard to stay in touch. The challenge being now to get in touch.
The problem is in facing my petty nature. It is easy to remember being victimized. Thus, childhood. It is harder to remember being the victimizer. But I was, it must be admitted. I took it out on both siblings. And why get into this old stuff now? Oh, why not? Yes, it is filth. But like the African tribesmen, one can rely on the Filth Eaters, to some extent. It’s just that, like my raised beds, an accretion of old stuff, nasty, smelly old stuff, may not decompose quite fast enough. The level keeps rising, the quantity of dirt or earth or growing area…the variety of terms and perspectives being quite illuminating…under increasing threat. So what is there to do but dig?
In the case of the raised beds, the situation and corresponding tactics are both looking desperate. I retired one of the plots after discovering that the apparently dormant lettuce was not just hanging out, but turning bitter…doubtless another botanical metaphor lurking in this. Anyway, ripping away the lettuce, digging out a couple of onions. And now what to do with the empty ground? My perennial answer is to sow a dense cover crop of ryegrass and fava beans and vetch. Not a good idea with the bed already bursting at its horticultural seams. So I toned the concept down. Some clover seed, of the sort that cohabits with lawn grasses, sprinkled everywhere, sprouting a low green carpet of nitrogen fixing growth. Somehow very gratifying that all this bacterial-root symbiosis is going on. Until the whole thing gets pitchforked under and become soil again. Too much of the latter being the problem.
An excellent way to sidestep a much bigger problem, the remains of the eight-foot tomatoes in the adjoining bed. Volunteer Paul, sidelined by hip pain, vows to get back into the suburban agricultural game as soon as this next Tuesday. Hard to say what we’re going to do about this mass of tomato detritus. Somehow, it’s my belief, the vines are going to be chopped, mashed down, some dirt sprinkled over the whole mess…and, yes, clover seed atop that. I don’t know about this. We’ll see. Or we won’t. The bed is full, that is the point. It will take some sort of magic to make way for new organic material. Which seems to be the point. There is something magical about the process. Bacteria growing underground converting the stuff that was recently growing above ground into…well, more stuff. And hard to say how much constitutes too much stuff. It may depend on what one grows. That one grows anything, or that anything grows at all…falls somewhere between baffling and awe-inspiring. In short, I don’t really have a plan for the beds. Yet they may have a plan for me. Meanwhile, what can one do but dig and rot and grow?