Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In dirt

I spent a lot of time with my hands in dirt this week.

The upper compost pile needed turning. This involved dismantling the wooden pole structure, rebuilding it next to the pile, then pitchforking the stuff into the new framework. I stuck in some chicken- and goat-amended straw in, to speed the rotting.
What it looked like last November.
Now the compost is clearly dirt, brown and crumbly, hard to distinguish from the soil around it at first glance.  One difference is plentiful worms, which I found throughout the pile.

Two years of piling and rotting, and we now have a cubic yard of fine dirt.  Egg shells and coffee grounds, grass cuttings and leaves, rain and urine have transmogrified into something like soil.  Slow, easy alchemy.  We'll let it mellow for the rest of the summer, then shovel some in to a couple of needful plots for overwintering.

Also this week we worked on the driveway, yet again.  If you haven't read here before, our driveway is fine farming earth, unfortunately: soft, eager to hold water.  So it becomes swampy during rain season, and quickly rutted and hard to drive on.  The default state used to be something like this:
In good weather.
So our excellent snow removal guy came and graded the thing, dragging a heavy iron blade down the driveway's length.  The results were flat, and also broad, as he widened it at a couple of points.

My runoff ditch, which runs the whole length from road to house on the uphill side, was partially blocked by fresh dirt.  So I dug it clear again, heaping the spilled earth onto the driveway's main rut lines.  I pulled out some rocks (always, in New England) to use elsewhere.  And I moved ten feet of trench sideways a bit, digging a new and wider path, which widened that piece of driveway.

I feel a child's delight in this work, a sense of gleeful play in making shapes out of earth: a long trench, a cubic stack, humped lines to be flattened by cars.  A couple of days after fixing up the runoff trench a squall hit, and I enjoyed seeing the trench fill with muddy, coursing water.  There's the playing-in-mud delight, combined with the low tech pleasure of seeing wet kept off of the damned driveway.

Low tech: working on compost and driveway, I could see the tree which holds our broadband radio.  I worked with an mp3 player in my pocket, playing podcasts about history, technology, and culture.  Yet my mind was occupied with the other end of history: shoving rocks, feeling my back stretch, watching worms wriggle through compost.  I thought about each layer of compost added to the earth, the soil being rebuilt and refined year after year, stretching into a dim future.  I envied the Romans and their engineering might, and tried to recall what made their roads so sturdy as I plopped dirt onto my little via.


Jim Parker said...

Good honest work that served a very practical purpose and also helps free the mind from some of the congestion that is force fed daily by the various media.

Barbara said...

Gorgeous compost! That's a gardener's gold, Bryan--kudos to you for finding the balance, the heat, the magic.

And I love the image of you digging the trench, listening to stories of times when people dug trenches in the dirt...

Bryan's workshop blog said...

It is good, earnest work indeed, Jim. Our whole life up here in the mountain is, in part, a withdrawal from a lot of media. We don't get tv. Movie theaters are very far away. Radio reception isn't good. We're basically creatures of the internet. And books.

Thank you, sweet Barbara.