Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/22/08)

As I was watching Law and Order a few days ago, Meine Überfrau burst into the room, challenging me with the question, “Have you ever tried to find your inner child?” At the time I was trying to outwit the detectives on TV, guessing the culprit before they stumbled on him or her. She wanted me to flip the channel to Sponge Bob Square Pants. So engrossed was I in outwitting the screenwriters that my reply wasn’t satisfactory which meant she was able to reply on my behalf to her own question. “I bet you never were a child but an adult even when you were a child and don’t have an inner child to find today.” Wow, what a relief. I could go back to outwitting the screenwriters. Besides, Gretchen’s sentence was too complex for me.

From what I understand, childhood memories aren’t the same thing as finding that inner child. Since I had no inner child to find, memories will have to do. My fondest childhood memories are working with my father in the yard. Although he was a dentist, as a son of the soil, he always hankered for the soil. Coming from Scotland by way of Canada and North Dakota to Southern California, he was carried away with camellias, avocados, oranges, lemons, walnuts, and roses.

I remember mostly his devotion to the soil, almost as though he were on a quest for the Holy Grail. I especially enjoyed our trips into the countryside in his air-cooled Franklin looking for decomposed oak leaf mold and bargaining with farmers and ranchers over prices. As I look back now, I realize that he had the same problem with the dirt as we do in Flagstaff, only his was decomposed granite while ours is clay or crumbling sandstone. Although his theology would not allow for the idea of creation as a process rather than an event, composting gardeners can participate in the process of an ongoing creation. It’s called renewing the earth, only the creation is not ex nihilo, but of carbon, nitrogen, and worms.

Our dirt needs help to turn it into soil. Although the earth is not an entirely closed system with the sun supplying an enormous amount of energy, it doesn’t have endless resources, such as fossil fuels or water. We have the prospect of using up the irreplaceable which means conservation and renewal, the heart of composting. It is a way of giving back that which we have received, an act of thanksgiving.

Composting itself is simple. It’s basically piling things up for which one has no use, specifically carbon and nitrogen, like kitchen scraps, tea leaves, coffee grounds, grass clippings, non-woody yard clippings, horse manure, and so forth. Things to exclude are: dog and cat feces, fat, plastic, grease, and oil.

Actually, composting is at the bottom of the food chain and, therefore, it’s the most important, something like the foundation of a house. We compost those things we don’t want to eat, and rather than throw them away we can put them back in the food chain, aware that the earth is not an inexhaustible resource.

Now, the piles can either be in bins, cages, or old-fashioned piles. The trick is two-fold: get the right ratio of carbon to nitrogen, 3-1, and turn the pile with a pitchfork now and then to let oxygen in the pile to make it work.

My father used to tell me that we serve God in acts of kindness, both small and big, feeding the hungry, educating the illiterate, comforting the sorrowful, and then he would quote Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. Well, that’s about it with the earth. We’ve savaged it too long, and now we need to bind up its wounds. It is really no longer a question of kindness, but of necessity. As the Sergeant said to Duncan in Macbeth, “My gashes cry for help.”

The bumper stickers say, “Think global, act local.” Acting locally means composting. We’ve been like trust-fund baby wastrels. As in the Parable of the Talents, it’s time to invest our inheritance by saving our garbage.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2008

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you see the story in AZ Sun about the kids doing worm composting?