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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Confession, I knew the title would get your attention, but the actual topic of this post is about a subject most folks don't want to read about, a continuation of last week's post on life and death.  But it was thinking about compost that got me musing along these lines in the first place. 

When I lived in New Hampshire, we had a substantial vegetable garden, enough to feed ourselves and dozens of others.  If you have ever had a garden, you will know that it generates a lot of ‘waste’, cuttings, fruit and vegetables ruined by pests, and that material is supplemented by Fall leaves still mouldering on the ground at the start of planting season, as well as grass clippings in the Spring and Summer, and such kitchen waste as we accumulated. 


In an urban environment food waste goes into plastic bags and garbage cans to be collected but ours was sprinkled in with all the other detritus into an ever-growing mound that over the course of the year grew taller than a man’s height.  Set back away from where we could see it—the mound was covered with straw and chicken wire to keep the local critters from pulling out tasty morsels. All year long it sat there seemingly a rather large haystack but as cooler climates and accumulation worked their magic it grew into a literal heat pump, so hot from its internal machinations that it steamed away on most Winter days. 


Our compost pile had a twin—one we had built the year before that had long since ceased to decay.  Underneath a protective tarp, it had turned into a lovely dark chocolate brown pile of natural fertilizer that we would work into the vegetable beds come Spring to feed a new generation of fruits and vegetables. This is the cycle of life, dust unto dust from which new life is born.  But that isn’t the whole story.


Beyond that glib observation lies another far more interesting lesson.  I suspect most of us really don’t spend much time thinking about the process that turns kitchen and yard scraps into a nutrient rich source of new life—it just happens, and we reap the benefits. But what is going on inside that heap is another amazing process—the same one that causes our bread to rise, beer and liquors to brew, and here is the thing, our bodies to live and thrive. This process is the work of billions of microscopic microbes, bacteria, fungi, viruses, --all that stuff that can, under certain circumstances kill us, is what is keeping us alive. 


No doubt, you’ve read an article or two about gut health, and a litany of surprising findings about how it is linked to health and disease, and even our personalities and mental/emotional balance. That’s a lot of responsibility for these nearly invisible beings that co-exist alongside and within us. Now it may be a giant turn off to think this way, but I am going to say it.  We are, all of us, a giant, walking, living and breathing compost heap. Ugh—right?


While the image isn’t one that any of us might like to think about, it is those microbes that keep us alive and usher us into the next world when we depart this one—though I am speaking here more physically than spiritually.  While they are partly responsible for our inevitable decomposition, they too forfeit their existence to be replaced by billions of fresh and abundant life.  Last week I wrote about consciousness—that ephemeral being-ness that defines us and I could not help but wonder as I bagged up 80 gallons of seed droppings that were littering our lawn after a two-day windstorm if we really do have a grasp on what life is all about.  Now I am not suggesting that microbes are sentient, but from where does consciousness arise?  If we are a sum of all our parts, then that teeming life within us is not separable—it is as much us, as our hands or eyes, our genes and all that came before and will come after us.


Whatever your spiritual persuasion, I would posit that this miracle—as uncomfortable as the idea may be is our connection to the universe—to the veritable seeds of our existence. We are one with this universe whether we like or accept it.  Life perpetuates life, and our self-awareness must include the knowledge of the nearly invisible, silent aggregation within us.  Just a month before his death, Einstein wrote that “the distinction between past, present, and future was only a stubbornly persistent illusion”. I’ll add my own amendment, the distinction between life and death, between existence and what lies beyond is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

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