Despite all appearances, this post is just five words longThis afternoon I was gathering up some table scraps for Charlie to take out to the compost barrel. Compost! Black gold! In the last three days I've gotten totally into compost, having spent a great deal of money to acquire same from the garden center. I didn't mind buying it, exactly, but doing so started to seem slightly foolish when Ben began helping me in the yard. I'd put a handful of weeds in the weed bucket — oh, and fuck you, ineradicable horsetail, and your bizarre slightly penis-y spore whatsis — and Ben would contribute his own collection, proudly announcing, "Wee'! Wee'!" Only his weeds were actually great clumping handfuls of compost.
Having been reprimanded for doing this before, he'd look around all sneaky-like to make sure I was in no good position to give chase...
And then he'd make off with the bucket, hollering, "Wee'! Dump!" and overturn the bucket and all its contents, horsetails and compost alike, into the ravine off the side of the driveway before I'd even managed to unfold myself from kneeling.
As garden gnomes go, strictly speaking, he's kind of a pain in the ass.
So making my own compost had started to seem like a good idea, and perfectly in line with my capabilities and inclinations. I mean, what could be lazier? Throw some crap in a bucket and let it rot? Yeah, I can just about manage that if I pace myself carefully. I even enlisted an enthusiastic Charlie to be our runner, carrying the scraps out to the barrel a few times a day. He was dazzled by the responsibility, especially after I assured him that that's exactly the kind of task an up-and-coming farmer needs to master.
An aside: In keeping with my laziness, we have a little garden plot that I planted with herbs and vegetables a few years ago. Everything got at least a little eaten before season's end, by squirrels or deer or bears or possibly lawless gangs of marauding woodchucks, and I counted the experiment a failure. But a few things came back the next year, and have continued to do so, including scallions. I told Charlie what they were when they made their appearance recently, and he was all excited about them. I called him out one day last week and asked him to help me harvest them. "Harvest?" he squeaked, stunned by his great good fortune. "Like...a farmer?!" Which I thought was pretty awesome. Not as awesome, however, as what he said that evening, after we'd used his scallions in a potluck dish: "I'm going to tell everyone I harvested these," he said, then chortled indulgently. "They sure will be surprised to meet such a very young farmer!" He was practically stretching and snapping his nonexistent suspenders and polishing the fender of his imaginary combine.
Which is ridiculous. I'd never let him near a combine. I'm teaching him to work the thresher first. Tomorrow he goes solo.
But anyway, back to the present, with young Master Greenjeans trundling out to the backyard with a bucket of slops. This afternoon after lunch, I was putting the uneaten fragments of food into a container, gooshing it all around for good measure, coffee grounds and bread crusts and strawberry tops and whatnot. As another aside, collecting it like this, I'm newly conscious of how much food we waste. It's embarrassing and sobering. It's only been three days and already I've composted practically an entire side of beef.
So as I was poking in the mucky food with a fork to see if I could sink some cheese, I commented to Charlie that it reminded me of Charlotte's Web, in which Wilbur's trough is regularly filled with table scraps. "Why did Mr. Arable say he was going to kill Wilbur?" Charlie asked, hand on the doorknob, waiting to head outside. And I swear to God I kind of wish I'd flatly said, "Because he was evil and had to die."
But instead, because I'm a parent utterly of my time, I carefully explained why, on working farms, animals who don't make money — producing that which can be sold or becoming meat themselves — aren't kept around. Feeding the animals costs money, I told him, and a farmer won't spend more on an animal than he can eventually make from it. And then we talked a little about agricultural subsidies and factory farming and high fructose corn syrup and the shameful rash of foreclosures in the '80s and the plight of the American family farm and the catastrophe of toxic runoff and I had gone ten kinds of mournful Joad on him before too much time had passed. And then he asked me, "How are animals killed on farms?"
And I know perfectly well how animals are killed on farms. Out of consideration for those of a delicate bent, I won't go into the details, but rest assured that the animals are given plenty of time to put their affairs in order and say a warm, dignified goodbye in the company of their loved ones and intimates. That whole death panel thing is a big damn stinkin' lie. Anyway, Charlie asked, and I said, "I don't know."
This is quite unlike Paul and me. We're settled deeply into the habit of answering questions with as much information as we have at our disposal, and when we don't know we generally offer to find out. But sometimes I just can't hack it. I've had to stop listening to NPR in the car because All Things Considered has been all "rape in the Congo" this and "adolescent suicide bomber" that one time too many, with Charlie in the backseat tenaciously repeating, "But what is female genital muti—" And there I am frantically trying to distract him: "Look, Charlie! Did you see how I almost creamed that entire litter of kittens just minding their own business in the middle of the sidewalk? No? Wait, I'll turn around. I'll do it again! Just watch!"
When I told Charlie I didn't know how farm friends meet their maker, he begged me to speculate. When I pleasantly refused, he totally lost his mind, weeping at the injustice of it. I think he was ultimately more upset not knowing than he would have been by the truth. Which was fine with me. Because I'd have minded telling him more than I minded his disappointment. There's just no way I can take on some conversations, not with a five-year-old. The kid is so attentive, so engaged and interested in everything that it almost undoes me sometimes. Some things he's not ready for. Some things I'm not, either.
Still, there are more times I'm proud of his curiosity and his capacity. If nothing else, it's funny. This afternoon he was noodling around with glitter glue and construction paper, dropping great globs of the stuff in arrangements that looked abstract but were actually, I was told, the result of a keen intuition and a deeply felt sensibility. "I'm making frescoes," he told me brightly, "just like Leonardo."
What can I say? It cracked me up. And it's not all that outlandish. It seems clear to me that if da Vinci had lived in this miraculous era, this time of sticky wonder, the dawning days of glitter glue, he'd have made it his sparkly disco bitch.
Whoa. This is what happens when I don't post for a while, when things are going well, when I finally sit down to write and everything just comes gushing out. It's nothing coherent, nothing of substance, just what springs to mind born of simple contentment. I end up manically pounding out 1200 disjointed words when, really, five would do:
Life moves fast, is good.