So here is a weird post I warned you about recently. I started it at the end of November but thought it was too weird to post publicly, so I sat on it for a while. It’s actually more about how my lil ol brain works. Which isn’t really interesting except that we all live in our own little worlds, and it might be enlightening to see how one of these “worlds” operates… Or not. And if you maintain a compost pile, then this also serves as a cautionary tale. If you don’t know much about composting in the first place, check out our friend, the Plant Freak’s article about the basics of compost. Enough jibber, jabber, here you go:
A couple of months ago, as I was grunting through the arduous task of tending to the compost bin I’d neglected for months – while our weather was still in the 90s – I got to thinking and cogitatin’ on how my approach was similar to many other things in my life. I’ve made a passing reference before to being slightly autistic. I actually don’t say that lightly or as a joke – when tested for autism, I rank high up there – but I function well enough that most people don’t notice (except for my reputation as a space cadet.)
It’s related to my learning disability (which I talk about here) but even though it’s made a lot of “easy” things hard (like social interaction – high school was not kind to me), over many years I’ve learned how to live with it. One of the ways I cope is by developing systems for even the tiniest things – where many people can just take common sense and apply it to a given situation, that’s never worked for me. For even the simplest things, like learning to talk, I’ve had to be taught systematically until my brain forms a sort of general map of the situation at hand and then I can take it from there. This is where age comes as an advantage – I’ve been around long enough practicing to be a relatively normal human that I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Working on a neglected pile of compost is no different. So here was my system in action, which is an example of how I get my strange brain to work in my favor. It’s not fast, it’s not perfect, but it generally gets the job done.
First, I analyze the way things are at present. I haven’t touched my compost bin in months except to add kitchen scraps, so via my research (Google is a godsend) I know that I need to mix it up again and add a little water to get those microbes making the compost I need for my winter garden. Outside it is hot – very hot. I’m a little tired. Can I postpone this? No, this is the only morning I have to do this or I’ll miss the ideal but brief planting window of a Tucson autumn. So I’ll be doing hard work in desert heat – ok, I’ll need water. I go back inside and grab a tall glass of water and set it outside on a table. Now what is the best tool I have on hand for dealing with the compost? Oh, right, my pitchfork! I know this because I bought it specifically for the compost bin but haven’t really used it much. So I go grab the pitchfork, open the top of the bin and then almost retch at the disgusting bouquet that arises. Note, a disgusting bouquet does not arise if you actually take care of your compost pile – ie, turn it over every one or two weeks – but I had forgotten to do this for six months, so it was a pile of plant matter in various stages of decomposition.
I look forlornly back and forth between the pitchfork and this creepy morass of sludge. Then I remember that I’m supposed to add “brown” matter. Brown matter, in compost terms, is anything like dried grass, leaves, straw that adds bulk and other nice things that mix with the kitchen scraps and make compost compost-y. Luckily, I have some hay from last year still lying on my neglected vegetable beds, so I take a bucket and go back and forth so that there’s a decent amount of brown in relation to the … well it’s called “green” matter – but it certainly ain’t green right now. I’m already feeling some sweat trickle down my neck and I haven’t even started the real work yet. But it’s time to take a drink of water!
Very good. Now it looks like I have what I need to get started. Um, can I take a break now? Heh, nice try, Cris. No! I must get this done so I have some time to rest before a gig tonight! I remember that using pitchforks and rakes can get my hands blistery so I slap on some gloves. Anything else I need to attend to so I can keep procrastinating? Need to go to the bathroom? No? Oh well, then here we go.
Now it’s time for further analysis. What’s the most efficient way for me to use the pitchfork to mix up this stolid matt of grossness? I futz around a bit with the fork until I figure something simple that would work: plunging the pitchfork in an out of the material, in various directions, back and forth, to and fro, using as few muscles as possible. Plunge, plunge, plunge – I feel some signs of lightheadness coming on so I stop, breathe a few breaths and drink some water. Then back at it: plunge, plunge, plunge – breathe and sip. I work out a criss-cross pattern – first in one direction, then another. So I continue plunging until I feel tired, then stop, stretch, drink water, then go back. Eventually it all starts to break down. Slow and steady. Tortoise, not the hare.
I then start twisting the pitchfork to churn it up a bit. I need to incorporate this into the older bits below, which churn up to the top – in more advanced states of decay. This is good (plus the older stuff doesn’t smell). I keep taking breaks when I feel tired – no need to be a hero, it’s just compost! (I do need to remind myself of things like this or I’ll keep plugging along until I’m all used up.)
Once I’m satisfied that all the materials are fairly mixed together (it doesn’t have to be perfect) I can stop. Yay! I turn on the hose to add a little more water because it still seems dry in spots. And that’s that. I’m a bit sweaty and dusty, but not gasping for breath or teetering on the edge of sunstroke, so all’s good.
Then, and this is the most important part, I go to the bathroom and before I even wash my hands, I look myself right in the eye and swear to myself that I won’t go another six months without turning the compost. Then I wash up and I’m done!
This pretty much sums up how I do things: fiddle about, analyze a little, fiddle about some more, analyze and then find a pattern that will get the most done in the shortest time possible. Oh, and I’ve found it really helps before starting major actions to check in with your body. Hungry? Grab a snack. Thirsty? Grab a glass of water. Need to pee? Get thee to the bathroom! And it’s these little things that may take a while but they help me wrap my brain around something that I’m not very familiar with. Afterwards, it’s even better if I actually write down what I did and how it worked and any lessons learned (um, which is what this blog post is really doing). But I usually forget that part. (Except for this time! Now next time I need to deal with compost I’ll just check my blog!)
So what did we learn from this? Number One, keep up with your compost-turning! Seriously. Every couple of weeks, take that pitchfork and give it a stir. Number Two, there’s lots of ways to do something and even if your brain is a bit different or “slow”, there’s a way to break things down so you can figure almost anything out if you have time (and Google.) Just be patient with yourself, don’t feel bad if others are looking at you like you’re an idiot (believe me, you get used to it) and write things down so you’ll have a reference later. Get it? Got it? Good. Class dismissed!
So, uh, what did you think about this post? Was it at all interesting? I have to say I’m ambivalent about posting this. Who knows, maybe everybody else’s brain works like this, too, and you’re all (all 5 of you) going “duh, of course”! But we don’t really talk about our thought processes – or old compost – much, so maybe there’s still some value in looking behind the curtain…
UPDATE: I still haven’t turned my compost again in the 3 months since I first wrote this.