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Flipping the Pile...

My cherished friend and mentor has written these words: a helpful description of what the season of spring reveals.

…Before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are being created. I love the fact that the word humus-the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants-comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility. It is a blessed etymology. It helps me understand that the humiliating events of life, the events that leave “mud on my face” or that “make my name mud,” may create the fertile soil in which something new can grow.

Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

When I worked at a zoo, we had an enormous compost pile- as large as a small house. All the bedding straw from the pens, the spoiled hay, animal poop of various and sundry sources, and all the other organic waste was piled together in the back area into a steaming heap. One of my jobs, from time to time, was to use the loader to turn over and remix this pile- mixing fresh oxygen, moisture, and green material with what had already broken down.

It is hard to describe the smell when I got into the pile: rich, pungent, organic and almost acidic at times. It was the wave of heat that was startling the first time I worked the pile. How hot? My guess would be 50 or 60 degrees C. It was warm enough that I could feel the wave of hot air strike my face and chest in the cab of the loader. The center of the pile was nothing but steaming grey ash. It is difficult to comprehend how much energy, in the form of heat, is created by these feverish tiny microbes at work.

All this turning and mixing was to make valuable organic matter. We mixed this eventual mature compost with some silty soils to create a very fertile medium.

I shared this compost pile story a few days ago with our co-operative housing group. It came up during our sharing about what is happening to us. As we move into our new home together and begin life in this intentional community together, we are finding that some of our past is being visited. Old emotions are resurfacing. We are playing old films within our memories.

Earlier in the week, I had re-read Parker’s reflection about spring: that the difficult and humiliating experiences are humus- they create the nutrient rich soil that allows something new to germinate and grow. This triggered my to return again to the zoo and to the cab of the loader.

I am grateful for my busy inner bacteria: the microbes of my soul. I feel the heat of their constant activity.

Every moment, often without my awareness, my past is being consumed, broken down, and reduced to ash. It becomes nutrient- fertilizer- that becomes the medium for the present.

All that is becoming new within me and around me grows in this rich organic material that has been my life.

It is so good to flip the pile!

I long to get into this heap of events, to infuse fresh oxygen, and to enrich the recent moments of my life with what has matured into humus- into humility.


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