We’ve got three raised garden beds out back. One is devoted to our asparagus crop, one is for a rotation of veggies and one is a compost collection area. Or it is for the time being. It became the compost pit at the end of last Fall when my mom and I noticed that the soil in that bed was a little depleted and the level of soil was low. We decided to hold off on planting any Winter crops and dump all the kitchen scraps there instead. Dump. Dump. Dump. Since Balthazar, our sometimes gardener, got a different job, that’s pretty much all we do. No one regularly tends to the compost or turns it over so the pile looks like a science-y demonstration of decomposition in action. I’ve been known to go out there to take photos of moldy grapefruit peels and nesting eggshells and sprouting avocado seeds. Decomposition is a process that has intrigued me for sometime. It’s beautiful and it’s fascinating even if it is a bit smelly.
I took some compost out to the dump the other day and because it was sunny and maybe because Dave was inside cleaning up and I was looking for an excuse to give him a little more time towards household chores, I picked up the shovel so I could turn under some of that new and old food. I stood over the shovel, used my foot to push it deep into the pile and then moved a clump of dirt along with some dried up cauliflower, pistachio shells and old potatoes. The very first shovel into the dirt disturbed what was clearly a thriving community of cockroaches. Fifty or so gleaming, healthy, shiny roaches scurried out from beneath the dirt. They ran, scattershot, looking for places to hide—under avocado shells or into the shadows. Eight seconds later, they were gone. So I dug again and more roaches came out. Again, dozens of strangely beautiful specimens, with their wings tucked onto their back body and hairlike antennae sticking out from their heads, scuttled out of their underground village and into temporary hiding places. They weren’t covered with dirt or funk. They were perfect. Clean and brilliant. This went on for a while. I couldn’t help myself. Each time, there were more roaches, more amazement, more hiding, until finally I reached what must have been the deep and inner sanctum of roach paradise. It was only then that my shovel uncovered the red-brown, wingless, and glistening young roaches. They were about half the size of the adults, they moved slowly and they weren’t prepared to find clever hiding places. They didn’t really know what to do. They just shifted from side to side or around in slow circles. Kind of like royalty might. It was tender and dear to see those young creatures, unearthed. It felt like a rare gift.
I came in and told Dave about it. He said he knew they were there because one night he went out with the compost and when he shined his iphone-light on the compost pile, he saw them all run. They must have moved in a while ago.
This event might not appear blog worthy, and I wasn’t sure why it felt so important, but my love of decomposition and cockroaches in the compost pile wouldn’t allow me to let it pass us by. What is it about me and old food and insects and processes? There’s something about things rotting and breaking-down that reminds me and makes tangible, even visceral, how temporary, cyclical and unpredictable so many things in life are. In this one compost pile, we witness this ongoing process of change over and over again. We can predict some outcomes of change: Old food breaks down, turns into compost, nourishes the soil and then helps the new plants to grow. But then things like this happen. I couldn’t have predicted it. I didn’t see it coming. The breakdown and decomposition that happens as a part of life, my life, your life, everyone else’s too, sometimes the results help us, or something else, to thrive. This helps me to trust that I don’t have to know it all. I don’t have to predict how things are going to turn out. I can trust and appreciate that something is there, under the surface, and we just need that shovel and a little bit of free time to uncover it.
Amanda teaches yoga movement, breath and meditation in Austin, TX and online. She offers individual sessions to those interested in developing a daily home practice. More information is available under “classes” tab or contact her by clicking HERE.