A Thin Dark Line

Look closely. You’ll see two dark lines. The very light one at the bottom is the original sand.

This Saturday, we took our friend Chip to the dump.  Dumps are weird places.  I find them both fascinating and unsettling, probably because I reuse so much and find throwing away useable items hard to accept.

Still, dumps are necessary. It’s pretty hard to reuse water-sodden siding or window blinds so old that they’re crumbling, both of which were among the things we were helping Chip get rid of that day. This trip, I was pleased to discover that the dump had separate bins set up for old electronics. An attendant came over to ask if our load included any metal. Good to know that even the dump is getting into recycling and reusing.

Not everyone is so conscientious. At the bay next to us, a man in a huge, shiny pick-up truck was unloading what looked like the remnants of an office, including several three-ring binders that certainly could have been emptied and sorted out. Two bays down, a panel van was unloading at least a dozen toilets, sending them to crash into fragments on the pavement. I hope these were older, high water-usage models.

Even so, I couldn’t help but think that Mira in Child of a Rainless Year or the Head Wolf’s pack in Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls could have found uses for this stuff.

Across from us, two other bays were filled by trucks dumping branches and leaves. These particularly bothered me because the leaves could have easily been composted and most wood can be chipped and used for mulch.

My own yard generates an amazing amount of organic “trash” – especially given that our largest tree is an apricot – a complete light-weight in the department of producing leaves. Still, we have large amounts of wild asters (we let them go for the lovely display of purple flowers in the autumn), sunflowers (both wild and domestic), wild mallow, and various bunch grasses. We also collect the leaves from our neighbor’s mulberry tree.

All of this goes into trenches we dig in our vegetable beds. You see, the basic material of our yard is sand. Not sand and trace matter: sand. Great drainage, but lousy nutritive value. When friends of ours with horses lived closer, we would collect manure from them. Lately, we’ve depended almost exclusively on the organic matter in our compost trenches.

When visitors see these trenches – they’re a good five feet long, about three feet wide, and easily that deep – filled to the brim with dead plants, wood chips from our guinea pigs’ bedding, and other organic waste, they can’t believe that by the next year all that will be left is an inch-thick strip of dark, crumbly earth. But, from experience, I know that’s what will be there.

For a writer, a life lived actively can become like organic matter dropped in a trench, covered over with soil, and left to rot.

You never know what will be useful. Maybe it will be a person you chatted with in the grocery store, maybe a strange incident you observed. (Why is that man leading two horses down the side of the road, miles from any field?)

Something read years before may provide a story idea, as it did for me when an article about how historic lighthouses are often moved to preserve them became the root for the story “It Must Burn” in the anthology Lighthouse Hauntings.

This past weekend we went to the dump with our friend Chip. The experience is there, a thin line of dark soil in the compost trench of my mind.

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7 Responses to “A Thin Dark Line”

  1. Elene Says:

    Hi, Jane! Your fan club sent me a note about your blog. I appreciate what you had to say about going to the dump– I also have terrible misgivings about throwing things away and what kind of trouble they may cause wherever they end up. And I am delighted to hear about the dump separating out electronics and metals.

    I’ve been blogging at elene.gaia.com/blog for most of a year, but not very regularly. (A colleague is doing a DAILY blog– eek, very difficult I would think.) Most of the posts come from the material for my still-nonexistent book on contacts with the spirit world. The last one, from New Year’s Eve, is perhaps the most entertaining.

    I am stuck on the current entry, which is part of a chapter I’m having a great deal of trouble putting together. Today I have some time to work on it, right now in fact, and OH NO NOW I HAVE TO ACTUALLY WRITE SOMETHING….

  2. Elene Says:

    By the way, if you put in a low-flow toilet, in order to get the rebate you have to certify that the old high-flow one was destroyed. Although I think the rebate program is no longer going on?

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    Robin used to live in Perth (Western Australia). Like your garden, hers was simply sand and she too composted with huge enthusiasm. She had a worm farm as well but, to her eternal shame, the worms all left home and moved next door because she fed them too much fruit!

    She can’t get out of the habit of composting even though it is not really required in New Zealand; a place of grotesquely fertile soil. There is a tree growing in the grounds of a museum in the far north of the country which has a sign that explains how this tree grew from a fence post that sprouted during a particularly sultry summer!

  4. Tori Says:

    Jane, would you mind posting a photo of your compost trenches? I know it’s still winter but it’s almost ready for use, right?

    Also: have you ever put one of those “plastic” corn-derived cups in your compost? I’d be interested to see if they really do compost down.

  5. Dominique Says:

    Jane, it always amazes me how much wisdom I get from just a conversation with you or one of your writings. It is funny to think that everything and everyone we come into contact with have the potential of becoming a muse of sorts. You’re right though, sometimes inspiration seems to come from the weirdest places. I guess it’s really a good reminder to stop and pay attention every once in a while…

  6. Jane Lindskold Says:

    We already have three compost trenches dug, so I’m sure we can get a picture. It should go up tomorrow or Saturday, depending on how the weather cooperates.

    This morning we have drizzle, chance of snow later in the day. I’d like to get a shot where you can see the stratigraphy from past years.

    Thanks for the suggestion, Tori, and thanks for all the neat comments on this post and other.

  7. Tom Says:

    Stratigraphy? Methinks you’ve had ears open these last years.

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