You see I’ve been composting ever since I moved to the big house on the beach in Vinorama. All our kitchen waste goes into a little bowl on the counter and, once it is filled or the fruit flies get out of control because the lid is broken, I take it outside to a five gallon bucket where it continues to rot and ferment into a stinky, slimy, maggot-ridden mess. From there it goes to the pile of esterico (manure in Spanish) to continue putrefying and eventually turn into black gold – beautiful, nutrient-rich soil from which healthy green leaves on my garden plants are born.
The desert soil in this area is a virtual nutrient wasteland. Being so close to the beach, the soil on our property is sandy with little organic matter in it, which means it doesn’t hold moisture very well either. So it’s important to amend the soil with compost and esterico, adding what’s missing. In its absence, many native plants have come up with ways to deal with the lack of nitrogen. There are a lot of legumes sporting bean pods just like the sugar snap peas in your garden. Trees like the Palo Verde bear big pods filled with seeds reflecting their family ties to the legume family.
Legumes have the ability to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen. The atmosphere is 78 percent nitrogen, so some plants carry little bacteria in their roots that help them grab the nitrogen out of the air spaces in the soil around them, providing their host-plant with a readily available source. As a biology student I had to dissect the root nodules containing the bacteria to look at them and appreciate the importance of their role in plant biology and adaptation. The inside of the nodules is deep red, the color of wine, because of the iron they contain and you can see little individual rosy cells of the bacteria under a microscope. It’s pretty amazing in a geeky-biology-kinda-way.
I’ve been doing another kind of composting here in Vinorama too. I didn’t realize this was what was going on, but Natalie Goldberg made me understand this process in her book Writing Down the Bones.
I’ve been composting the story I want to write.
Ruminating on it, remembering details and subtleties of my experiences. Trying to figure out a beginning and an end, themes and why it’s important to write it all down. I always liked the term ruminating for what I’ve been doing because of its connection to large gentle animals – ruminants – like cows and deer, who have multiple stomachs and chew their food more than once. Using this methaphor, I’d been chewing the cud of my story…until Natalie came along. Then I realized where I’d been going wrong – composting, as a metaphor for the thinking that accompanies the writing process, produces the better end result – black gold. Writers who ruminate, well…they just end up with shit.