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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Beethoven and Compost…

House of compostWhen it’s time to sleep, thoughts disturb your peace of mind and prevent you from unraveling the cares of the day. You wake up in the night and your mind goes into hyper-drive. You try to sleep. You employ your “sleep techniques," whether they be reciting the poems you memorized in the eighth grade or, as I do, inventorying the items in Scout and Jem Finch’s cigar box. These irritants are usually minor but they seem to multiply and fester, become a “to do” list, and while there’s not much you can do in the middle of the night but fret, that’s what you do, wiling away those valuable hours of sleep and rest you need to address what can’t be done until daylight.

I had a night like that recently. That day I had cleaned the asparagus bed, raked off the leaf mulch and last year’s compost, cleared it off  down to the bare soil. To my surprise I discovered some asparagus spears had already sprouted. Much too early for that, I thought. I need to top off the raised bed with new compost and protect those tender spears from the frosty nights common this time of year. After sorting through that cigar box several times, I finally drifted off.

I back the truck into one of the bays at the Werkhovens’ digester. Earlier in the week I had emailed Jim asking him if I could load some “by-product” for my asparagus bed. “Help yourself,” Jim replied, and here I was on the working end of a pitchfork helping myself to a mountain of compost. What I forked into the truck bed looked to be premium stuff: nice, loose, cooked fiber that would amend the garden soil and the asparagus bed with nitrogen while at the same time controlling the weeds. The last couple of years the “by-product” rolled out of the drying drums in fiber balls, many of which didn’t seem to decompose in the garden. Not so with this load; each forkful broke and spilled easily in the bed of the truck. I forked the bed full and headed back to the garden to unload.smoking compost

During the day, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I listen to the radio. When I’m running errands, the truck radio keeps me company; working around the place, you’ll usually see this old farmer wearing a headset which serves a dual purpose: entertainment and inner ear protection when operating power equipment. Usually by noon—oftentimes before—I have heard as much news and radio blather as I can stomach. Up the dial I go to a station that features news and commercial-free classical music. This is the station I’m tuned to as I begin to spread the compost on the garden. The radio host introduces the next piece—Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. As the familiar stirring  first four notes issue from the radio, I pause, pitchfork in hand, smoking compost swirling around my barn boots, and think as I stand here wearing my tattered jeans and work shirt, how out of context this tableaux must appear. First of all, as the pianist plays those ponderous four notes, I see Winston Churchill flashing the “V” sign with his fore and index fingers. Churchill with his greatcoat and bowler hat; Churchill with his cigar, watch chain looped across his vest; the Prime Minister, bulldog joweled, his brow wrinkled in a scowl that could divert a V-2 rocket. I think of the three-quarter notes followed by the longer half note, the same duration as the Morse Code equivalent of the letter “V” which became the digital symbol for victory during WWII. The venue for Beethoven would be a symphony hall filled with full orchestra under the direction of a tuxedoed gentleman waving a stick in their faces, both performing for a full house of  concert goers wearing suits and ties, gowns and corsages. But here I am: stooping and scooping compost from the bed of the truck while “dit-dit-dit- dah” blares from the radio. compost mountain

As I mentioned in an earlier post, music conjures up memories, recollections of past experiences, places and acquaintances of days gone by. Beethoven…and memory’s fancy transports me to a movie theatre where Stanley Kubrick’s film classic “A Clockwork Orange” is playing. A sociopathic youth named Alex, leader of a gang of young thugs bent on rapine and violence,  is drugged and strapped to a chair, his eyelids propped open while one violent movie after another spools before his eyes. Alex has been apprehended and justice will be served by subjecting him to aversion therapy through which he’ll be cured of his antisocial behavior and reformed. Part of Alex’s cure will be the drugs he’s forced to take which will make him nauseated whenever he sees scenes of violence. As one violent scene after another flashes before him, Alex, a lover of classical music, realizes the images he’s watching are accompanied by the music of his favorite composer, “Ludwig Van.” The composition he hears? Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Not only will Alex become violently sick whenever he views or participates in acts of violence, but also when he hears Beethoven’s music.

As the refrains of Beethoven’s 5th issue from the radio, I think about my morning caffeine. I think about the compost I’m standing in.unload me, please I think about my labor of loading it into the truck, unloading and spreading it in the backyard garden. And I think about Beethoven and aversion therapy. Then comes the silly thought: “What would happen if I became physically ill whenever I tried to shovel compost?”A very good thing for me, but the garden would not take it so kindly.compost blanket

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