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.
No, leave that one on the ground. Don’t be fooled by the ruddy lustre captivating your tongue’s imagination. It looks like a crisp bite, a mouthful of firm flesh and sweet juice. Turn it over. See where the taut skin thinned, failed open to marauders. Leave it. Let it nourish next year’s fruit.