Late on the night of the Great Vigil of Easter, my husband and I pulled into our garage, and Gary popped the trunk open. We had driven up together to Grand Island that evening; since I had wanted to be at the church well ahead of the beginning of the service, he had dropped me off and gone off to spend some time somewhere – he said he might go to Starbucks -- until it was time for the Vigil. Evidently that had all been a ruse, because in the trunk were two things for which I had been shopping this spring: a kit to make a raised garden bed, and another kit to make a composting bin.
The two gifts went together. Our house sits on two half lots, side by side; we have no back yard to speak of, and a small side yard is all the space we have for gardening. A couple of summers ago when our contractor finished using stacks of materials that he had used while working on our hail-damaged house, we suddenly had a couple of large rectangular areas where the grass had died – instant beds for vegetables! Last summer, we expanded one of the areas. The soil in these beds needs a lot of work; meanwhile, we have a trash bin full of yard waste hauled away from our house most weeks during the growing season. I began thinking that if I could figure out where we could put a compost pile, we could reduce our waste and have what we needed to improve the soil. When we started looking at making another bed with a raised bed kit – eliminating the problem of the lawn encroaching on the garden – we realized that a good compost bin or pile would give us something to mix with soil to help fill up the raised space. After seeing a couple of bins that seemed small and unobtrusive enough to sit in the back corner of our lot, a compost bin began looking very practical.
What’s been surprising is how much fun this is! The practical value has really been overshadowed for me by the sheer joy of composting. It’s stirred up pleasant childhood memories of playing outdoors using whatever was at hand – making mudpies, crunching dried leaves underfoot or crumbling them over soil, playing with flowers (weeds and garden flowers were equally fascinating and fun to use in various ways), and breaking up small sticks just to hear them snap and see what was inside.
There’s something very elemental about paying attention to the “waste” from the garden and the kitchen and using it to nourish new plants, some of which will produce food for us this summer. There’s a bit of Easter in seeing things that we would usually discard become the source of new life. Composting is a literally down-to-earth project, something that helps us connect to the Earth and to the basic functions and patterns of living things. The reminder of this connection several times a day as I set aside scraps and garden clippings for the compost pile ends up being a sort of prayer woven through the day, a sense of connectedness to God’s creation, a reminder of our role in caring for creation. Through these things, it’s a reminder of humility in its true sense: who we are and whose we are.