“All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”

                                                ~ Ecclesiastes 3:20

Over the last week or so, I’ve been taking my compost pile apart to move it. Normally, I take it apart in the early spring to separate the good decomposed material in the center of the pile from the un-decomposed (composed?) materials that go back into the year’s rebuilt pile. I take the good material and spread it on the garden beds and several flower beds, and often share some with my neighbors. This year, I am moving the entire endeavor to a different location in the yard.

Digging through the pile is compelling — seeing what has decomposed, what it has decomposed into, and what didn’t decompose. I recovered several rubber balls, presumably dog toys raked up with the cut grass or fallen leaves. They have been suitable soaked and flavored over the year, so the dog will enjoy them even more. I found a spoon as well, no doubt absent-mindedly tossed into the compost with some leftover meal. I retain non-meat and non-dairy food kitchen waste for the pile, so I often find artifacts like plastic, paper or pineapple tops unaffected by their time in the pile.

Years ago, I accompanied a friend into the Colorado mountains to explore an at-least century-old landfill outside a small town. Though it had been unused for decades, we worked at the older end of the landfill (to avoid any really nasty stuff) and excavated small trenches to see what of interest we could turn up. Beyond the surface, the soil was black and reasonably fine grained, organics having been mostly decomposed. We found lots of wood chunks, porcelain shards, a few intact bottles and misshapen bits of metal. No great treasures, but it was interesting anyway.

All this reminds me that we really do exist inside a natural cycle, where something is created out of some materials and energy, then over time decomposes back into its origins. I can see the cycle in my own existence. We grow grass and trees and buy food and other things, then toss the excess or remains to decompose into their component parts. Grass, leaves, food scraps, coffee grounds and miscellaneous yard debris go into our compost pile and good growing materials come out to ultimately become part of the next cycle.

As a sanitary engineer, I have witnessed the conversion of myriad materials into waste. Some of that waste could be and is recycled or reused, but much was either dumped into a sewer or a landfill. Sewer wastes are (usually) treated to purify the water and the solids are allowed to decompose and stabilize and most often used for agriculture. Landfills will be reopened and excavated someday to recover useable materials. Many materials could become fuel for creating energy.

It’s also hard not to see yourself as part of the cycle. We are created from the bits and pieces of others and the energy and materials they provide. Through our lives we use materials and energy and convert them into other things that ultimately decompose into their origins — as do we. Our physical selves are as impermanent as everything else in our world, merely existing until we become parts of something else.

The vegetables we grow using the compost in our garden represent a tiny bit of our past lives and existence. The meat and vegetation we consume all come from some origin, either local or remote, and become a part of us. We actually are what we eat.

“We are stardust, We are golden,
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden”

                                Joni Mitchell, Woodstock

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