Yesterday morning I was working in the community garden and the big chore was to deal with the compost pile. If you don't know what a compost pile is, it's a big pile of decaying green plant matter. Once decayed this material is rich with nutrients and added back to the garden to enrich the soil.
In this community garden composting is very strict, and only desirable vegetable matter can be composted - that means no weeds, plastic, strings, etc. Well, as you can guess, not everyone follows the rules. So the job this morning was to sort through the compost pile and remove the weeds, plastic and trash. In addition, long pieces of plants (like corn-stalks, tomato plants and rosemary bushes) must be chopped down into small pieces.
An initial thought passed through my mind when I heard about our job: WTF!? I am going to have to sift through a pile of decaying and rotting plants for needles in the haystack?! But, I realized, it did no good to have judgment about the disgustingness of the job, so I put it away and got to work. It was a difficult job - one that could not be done quickly, if done well. I decided to practice impeccability and sift the weeds from the rest of the plants. I was not the only one doing this - we had a whole team, sifting, sorting and chopping with huge machetes. I took a pitchfork and began the seemingly enormous task of dissecting the pile. It helped that another women was doing this in tandem with me. I can identify plenty of plants in life - but in their death - it's quite hard to tell the difference sometimes between fennel, cornsilk and dried grass.
The reason we had to take the weeds out, was because our compost doesn't get hot enough to kill the weed seeds. So when the compose is returned to the soil, you'll get weeds back in your garden. As I worked, it seemed to me this was an analogy. Inside ourselves are weeds (and weed seeds). And try as we might to uproot them, we are not always successful. Even in death we keep our weed seeds, pass them on.
Later I took a job chopping down the long plant matter. I sat on a low bench with a long machete and on a level stump of wood chopped down corn stalks, fennel stalks, rosemary bushes and tall flower stalks. Plant matter decayed faster when it was chopped. I realized that although these plants were dead, the energy in them was not gone. They needed help to decay faster so that they could rise again in the soil.
As I chopped, I learned about/from the plants. I recognized the misgrown corns, the infected squashes, plants in various levels of wet decaying. The pile grew smaller. I became more successful in pulling out the weeds, the pieces of string around dead tomato plants. I did not feel pity for the plants. I knew they would be back. I was detached in my work. I knew I had to help them return to what they were, before they could be something new.