Maybe you’ve shoveled compost into your garden beds, mixing the dark organic matter that some gardeners call “black gold” into your native soil. Or, maybe you’ve walked into the woods and inhaled the moist, verdant fragrance of humus, that soft, springy top layer of the forest floor. What does that fresh, earthy fragrance have in common with compost, or aged animal droppings?
They’re both the product of death and rot. “Homemade” compost is an amalgam of discarded organic material—grass clippings, food waste, manure—that has rotted for months, aided by sun, moisture, insects, micro-organisms, and humans. The result is a dark, rich soil component that smells like the forest floor. We add this compost to our gardens for the same reason humus is vital for the forest soil–decomposing matter is rich with the nutrients plants need to thrive. And just as death is no respecter of persons, decay eventually touches every living thing.
Everything that is vibrant with life dies and decomposes, both things that are beautiful, useful, and loved, and things that are poisonous, rotten, and unwanted. Richly-hued autumn leaves; fallen, unpicked fruit; the maggot-infested carcass of a baby bird fallen from its nest; tattered dragonfly wings; and fragrant pine needles all become a part of the nourishing forest floor.
Everything that is vibrant with life dies and decomposes, both things that are beautiful, useful, and loved, and things that are poisonous, rotten, and unwanted.
As one season gives way to the next we might grieve the loss of beauty, or recoil at signs of decay, but these are necessary for new life. A wise gardener knows the same truth shouted by a thriving forest. Death is not the end.
We drove past the Reservoir on the way home. The day is grim winter gray punctuated by bare trees and piles of wet lifeless leaves. It is sprinkling. The temperature is cool enough for light layers and warm enough to feel muggy. This is not a day to delight in nature.
This is a day to huddle inside some man-made structure, to insulate oneself with bricks and mortar, with snacks and favorite libations, and ignore nature until she gets her act together and launches spring.
But we drove past the reservoir. We drove past a small spread of water ringed by dull, denuded woods, and today, unexpectedly, caressed by a thick, undulating silver mist. A shifting, swirling fog covered the lapping water and transformed a country recreation spot into a setting fit for fairies and nymphs and other odd folk who act out truth in children’s stories.
Man made that lake, they say, but anyone who sees it today will know that is not true. On this lukewarm day, nature graced a common, man-formed stretch of water with a subtle, uncommon beauty. And it was good.
Anyone can see
those pale curves were molded by a master.
No amount of dust, no darkened corner
can hide the same truth told by the sun
as it sinks into lavender mountains–
rustling, fragrant trees hug glinting streams,
uncurling ferns, a dragonfly wing–
the creation reveals its creator
with a silent shout.
When the air chills and the light dims, Autumn flames, then falls– All that glory ground into the winter wet earth With other dead things– Because in winter Life lies beneath, devouring death, Transforming all the rot and worthless things To cradle life, holding it in trust Until warmth and light return And the earth breaks open, greens and flowers. A shout of triumph, An anthem of joy.