May 12, 2022

Compost: a Love Story.

When I first met my husband, a few things about him caught my eye.

Initially, his height set him apart from many of the shorter men I had dated in the past. I remember our second date, when we went to stargaze at a closed airfield. He entered a code that granted us access beyond the locked gate that night. I remember running my fingers through his soft brown hair and eliciting an audible response from him as he adjusted his telescope to show me something that he wanted to point out in that evening’s sky.

I admired his commitment to his passion for astronomy, his patient explanations, and his thoughtful listening. I loved feeling transported by the whole experience.

Once I started to get to know him more, I also felt deeply touched by his sense of personal responsibility. I had never witnessed someone who, in so many quiet ways, did his part to make the world a better place with his day-to-day choices.

This man turned off the water when he took showers to cut down on his water usage.

He had a large flower pot that he kept composting worms in, on an extension of his kitchen counter.

He picked up stray trash on the street (with his bare hands!) and would find an appropriate way to throw these items away at a later moment.

I’ve watched him do this again and again, in a variety of settings in the woods and on the streets of Waikiki and Austin.

These were all things that I had thought about doing and that I considered virtuous, but I had never felt convinced that I could make any real difference by taking these kinds of actions. These were things that were recommended in lists in magazines and articles that I read, but they were not put into practice in my life. It never felt worth the inconvenience. It never felt like the right time.

I have some small amount of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) after having grown up in New York City with an anxious mother. I have some large amount of cynicism that also comes from having grown up in NYC. I made excuses for my inaction while an idealist lived in my heart.

We upgraded from his flower pot to a larger plastic tub that lived under my sink (I asked for it for my birthday one year), and then eventually, one of the items I was most excited about receiving from our wedding registry was a large worm bin with multiple trays. He eventually had little to do with the worms, and I was offering vermicomposting classes and worms to friends.

Composting captivates me.

The idea of turning waste into something useful, the idea of “black gold,” the ability to watch a process of decay that nourishes new growth fascinated me.

With the backdrop of city sounds and sirens, I used to love sitting next to my worm bin and just listening for the sounds of movement. My three-tier system set up on my sixth floor balcony was a place where I would often lose track of time. That quietest of sounds that my ears sought out for comfort, accompanied by my own little adjustments to the moisture of the bedding (shredded paper) filled my senses.

The process of caring for my worm bin made me feel more present and more connected to nature and the cycles that surround us. My little piece of the forest floor…I marveled at the tiny decomposers that showed up, as if by magic! I smelled the earthy, wet layers my fingers examined for dampness that would allow for my worms to stay cool and comfortably housed.

Blind and vigilant, I loved the way that their bodies shimmered in shades of blue in the light when I reached in to explore what they had accomplished in the time since I last visited with food scraps.

The idea of raising composting worms without a garden to eventually put the vermicast into just didn’t make any sense. Over time, my lanai, turned into an oasis of edible plants. There were tomato plants hanging from planters, attached to hooks in the ceiling. There were greens growing that didn’t just feed us, but also the birds came and feasted on the berries of the Malabar spinach.

There were vines weaving across the length of our porch, and there were pigeons who decided to lay eggs and roost in one of the planters. By the time we realized that we probably shouldn’t be allowing pigeons to roost in our planter, I was pregnant with my daughter, and it didn’t feel right to dispose of the eggs, as we later would. It took years before we were able to encourage the birds to stop coming back. My daughter grew up knowing the sounds of baby birds coming from the balcony and avoiding the bird poop on the floor of the lanai.

My love affair with my worms ended when we moved away from Honolulu, and I no longer compost with worms in Austin, where the climate is a whole lot less predictable. I still get a sense of excitement when I see a worm in the soil and have a place for my compost, but I no longer spend time sifting worms from vermicast.

Will and I have been married for over 10 years, and we have known each other now for over a dozen.

I think about all the parts of myself that have been added to the composting mix over the years. I think of all the bits and pieces, leftovers from family dynamics and past relationships that needed time to be picked over and decomposed before the beauty of what could be could unfold.

My idealism is more alive because I married a man with a deep appreciation for nature, and we are delighted to pass on our values to the next generation.


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