• February 4, 2023

One Pitchfork at a Time

The Heitman compost heap.


Photo:

Getty Images / iStockphoto

As spring approaches, I made a gardening list that includes turning the compost heap a short walk from the kitchen door. This waist-high hill – a small, brown mound fenced in by chicken wire – is where the remains of our lives go: the bottom of yesterday’s coffee, the eggshells of a hundred omelets, the rinds of the cantaloupe from last Thursday, my wife’s Valentine roses, the one now have shrunk to scarlet peels.

I cover the debris with a fresh layer of leaves each day to keep it clean, and we stir the pile with an old pitchfork every few months to hasten its decay. Holding compost, as many gardeners do, is a daily reminder of the volatility of things – how the bright blooms or sweet fruits one day quickly become food for the worms.

While pandemic headlines often bring dire news, I sense something different as I drive out every night to dump a bucket of trash into our melting pile. What I often feel is a reassuring circularity. I know that the routine ruins of my humble existence – the rotten tomato, the withered lettuce, the old casserole no one wants – are turned into food for something great by the alchemy of time.

This month, like every spring, our family will be putting wheelbarrowloads of the oldest compost, which has been made into a rich mix of gardeners called Black Gold, across our flower beds. So the ugliest chances and goals of a household – the rotten banana, the sour yogurt, the discarded jack-o-lantern – end up in a pink petunia, a red begonia, a purple sun hat fishing for the sky.

Currently, Christians around the world are making their way through Lent, a liturgical season that reflects both the presence of mortality and the promise of renewal. These topics have a special resonance in a global pandemic and they have always found their worldly parallels in the life of any garden.

I remember that even the bitter and broken parts of life help shape a world that also contains a measure of beauty.

This is news that I will cherish in those first days of March when I turn the page of my compost – also a page in a difficult year.

Mr. Heitman, editor of Phi Kappa Phi’s forum magazine, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”

Journal Editorial Report: The Best and Worst of the Week by Kim Strassel, Jason Willick, Kyle Peterson, and Dan Henninger. Image: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Published in the print edition on March 6, 2021.

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