Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gathering Wisdom and Garbage

So further up I-5 we drove, towards Corvallis. But we passed the exit, and for ten miles I was saying, “I think we passed the exit.” Oh well, what is ten more miles on a road trip? I have spent some time in Corvallis, and it’s a rad little town. My friend’s dad, Mr. Leytem, has a deli there. (Natalias and Cristoforo’s Authentic Italian Deli, best deli in Corvallis). But don’t call him Mr. Leytem, call him Greg.
I’ve known Alicia for 12 years, we were both Rotary exchange students to Finland. Her family came over to visit her there one time, and I showed them around Turku (the town I lived by) for the day. This is how they all remember me, the girl from Turku.
We pull up to the deli, and outside is a Girl Scout selling cookies. This was an omen that we’d be having a good day. I’ve been saying for a month, that it’s Girl Scout cookie time, and I want some Thin Mints. I only bought two boxes, which was not enough, and I had to threaten Ed with divorce if he ate any.
Over some wonderful sandwiches, Alicia shows up at the deli, and says, “hey come check out my house.” A little background on Alicia, she got her degree (cum laude) in Botany from Oregon State University. I remember coming to visit her once, just before she graduated, and she would pull pictures of fungal DNA strands out of her pocket and start telling me about them. DNA was never my strong area (I had to study human DNA in Anthropology) and I would soon be left behind in a trail of words. Well, she is currently applying for grad school at OSU, has already been acccepted into the Soil Sciences department, but is hoping for the Botany department. She took us around her house, showing us her compost pile, her soon to be chicken coop, her garden area, and her cellar full of canned goods where she pressed plum jam, kiwi jam and sweet pepper relish on us. All very good.
Alicia started to tell us about the project she might work on which examines parasitic plants, whose root system attacks the root systems of other plants, causing major crop failure in Africa. I am paraphrasing here, and using a fungus to combat the parasitic plant. At least that’s what I understood her to say. Then she started to tell me about how to grow potatoes, which are one of the plants I’m most looking forward to growing. She had a starter potato, as she went seed shopping the day before, and calmly explained how you would cut the starter potato in three places, let it sit in a paper bag so the exposed flesh could scab over, and then bury it. Alicia also threw me a few books to read. One of them was Let It Rot! By Stu Campbell, a book all about composting. I devoured it and learned that we’re not really doing it right, but that we’re not really doing it wrong. Two main features Mr. Campbell said were very important; the moisture level, that of a wrung out sponge, and it should smell like grass.
We hadn’t paid much attention to our compost pile since we started it, but reading this book really made me want to go play in it. I realized that our piles weren’t tall enough, they should be about 4’x 4’x 4’, so that the pile will be big enough to hold heat, but no too big so oxygen can’t reach the center. We had three piles of about 3 and ½ feet to 2 feet tall. We also had gotten some new pallets lately and wanted to extend the compost system. So we built two more compost containers (pallets tied together) and mixed up all three compost piles to build two taller, better mixed piles. For the most part our pile had the consistency of a wrung out sponge, expect some areas were really wet, and some were dry. And it smelled like sweet grass, except one corner that smelled of horse dung. I mean, we use horse dung in the pile, but still. When we first started the compost pile, I had trimmed back all the grapes and blackberries with Carol, and had thrown all the clippings on the compost pile, without running them through a chipper, which we don’t have access to. (It’s on my wish list, along with a compost thermometer). So there were a lot of big twigs in the pile, we decided were not a good idea, so we pulled as many of them out as we could.
As strange as it sounds, Ed and I had such a good time with each other, climbing through the shit, pitch-forking it back and forth, as we rearranged the piles. To see how much they are already shrunk since we started them two months ago, and to see the little bit of steam that would rise as we shoveled into it. We were getting so excited! That we are able to help give something back to the earth, in thanks for all it gives us. That we are creating this natural substance that will enrich our soil. There is a seamless beauty to this cycle, and I am a part of it. A sense of purpose and reason for being here overtook Ed and I in our toils, and once again, as when we saw the Milky Way by the fire that night, for a moment I think we understood.


  1. Hi! I saw you guys on TV and just wanted to stop by to wish you the very best. You will grow to love your new lifestyle, and given the chance at that point, you won't want to go back to your city existance. I farmed for around 20 years, now I am back in college and living in a small town. We're renovating an old home, and the plan is to lease it once it's done and move out into the boonies. Please, feel free to call on me anytime if you need some advice about milking goats, cows, hatching chicken or duck eggs in the incubator, or growing vegies. I would be happy to help out where possible.

    Have a happy week!
    Kerry :)