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Soothing Restlessness with a Turn of the Crank

Last year, I committed to myself that when springtime came, I would step up my social responsibility at home. Among other things, this meant buying a composting bin: one of those contraptions to turn last nights’ leftovers into fertile nourishment for soil. Who knew that tending to the dirt, feeding worms, and appeasing my green growing things would reap such benefits for me as well?

After my usual obsessive research, comparing countless makes and models, I chose a green freestanding tumbler — happily made of almost-entirely recycled materials. I fill it with ingredients rich in carbon and nitrogen: my kitchen scraps, leaves and weeds from the yard, and the used paper plates from outdoor BBQs that would have ended up in my garbage. Then I simply turn the hand-crank once a day to ignite the composting process and keep it going. With every turn, the ingredients tumble together, bringing air and nutrients to the worms that break them down, creating a mixture that will fuel new life in the soil wherever I apply it.

I must admit I feel a little jealous of my trees, flowers, and herbs that will benefit from this rich home-made plant food. If only human nourishment was as simple as dumping our junk in a bin and turning it once a day.

I’ve noticed a feeling of restlessness within me lately. You know what I mean? I’ve been fidgety to change how my life or work is going, but am not exactly sure what needs to improve — or where to begin. I feel both shaken and stirred; my life seems to be a jumble. Maybe it’s because I’ve been grieving at the recent death of a dear friend, ambivalent about my “mid-life” years, and antsy at the arrival of spring (everything else is growing anew, so why not me?!). Ordinarily I dislike such restlessness; I prefer to feel in control with a clear vision of the path ahead. But as I turn the composter’s crank I realize: I’m in the middle of turning over something new in my life, something rich and fertile and good. Something that will arrive in its own rhythm, not according to my agenda.

This relaxing of my expectations suits the arrival of spring. As eager as I may be to see my flowers bloom and herbs ready to pluck, they will be here in due time. As restless as I am with the jumble of emotions I’m facing, simply turning them over and providing air and water and time may be all that’s needed. As the eloquent environmentalist, Dana Meadows, wrote:

The Earth says what’s the hurry? Take your time building soils, forests, coral reefs, mountains. Take centuries or millennia. When any part wears out, turn it into food for something else.

Tumbler composting unit - social responsibility and great fertilizer

To look at the pile of limp wilted vegetables, egg shells, and spent tea leaves next to my sink, it’s hard at first to see beauty in it. Then it joins the mixture in the bin and with patience and daily tending it becomes rich food for my plants. Where once I would have cringed at handling decomposing matter, now I see it as tending to nourishment. And when I apply the same attitude toward my own grieving, ambivalence, and restlessness, I find that I’m able to turn them into fuel for new growth in my life.

As the bumper sticker says, “compost happens.” Give it a tumble.

Bumper Sticker - Compost Happens

Photos by amandabhslater, Clean Air Gardening, and vinzcha.