The Power of Compost


Windrows of Compost on BU Farm

Standing on the back pad of BU Farm in Oregon this week as the sun was coming up, I was awestruck by the power and majesty that is compost. My view is probably skewed because we make compost, but I can tell you this, I have never felt anything like the quiet, powerful calm that came over me this past Thursday.


As the sun started to peek through the clouds overhead, a mist was rising off of the windrows of compost that were sitting on the two acres that make up the back pad of our farm. I was out early to take temperatures on the windrows that we had just built the day before. The birds flew in and out of the grove near the creek below us, singing and calling to each other as they’d hunt for food, or when one of the hawks got a little too close.


Beyond the birds calls, a deeper sound was permeating the chilly morning air. It was a quiet, steady, hum that I could hear, but more so could sense from the top of the hat on my head to the soles of my boots in the dusty soil below my feet. I listened closer and closer, trying to make out where the deep hum was coming from.


I closed my eyes. I pressed my boots deeper into the soil of the compost pad. Then, suddenly, all at once, the sound of the birds drifted away. The quiet hum became the only thing that existed on the planet in that moment with me. I felt the warmth of the sun on the top of my hat, yet beyond that, everything was slipping further and further away, except for the hum.


It was getting louder and louder, yet softer and more inviting. It wasn’t violent. It wasn’t harsh. It was beautiful. Meditative. The world became absolutely still and silent at BU Farm. All that existed in that time and space was me, the earth and the hum. Suddenly, I knew what was calling me. I knew deep down in my soul what that sound was that was becoming louder and sweeter and more beautiful than any music that I had ever heard.


It was the compost!


I opened my eyes and saw the shimmering sea of compost, glimmering and glowing with the rising sun.


Sunrise over BU Farm

It was humming, singing a chorus of decomposition, alive with the power and creation that all life on this planet is built from. Bacteria and fungi and protozoa all in harmony creating the building block of living soil, in a ballet unseeable to the naked eye. In that moment, I didn’t have to see it. I knew that they were there, and they knew that I was there. They were singing, pulsating out a magnificent, quiet hum that was so strong it made me breathless. I was washed in awe as I looked out over the horizon of chocolate brown windrows. The compost and I were one. The microbes and I were brothers and sisters, living beings, sent to this earth to do good, be of service, to help create food and gardens, nutrition and joy. To many this may seem strange, but it was ecstasy. It was one of the most powerful visions and moments in my life.


I closed my eyes again and let myself luxuriate and bask in the moment. The vibration of the life in the compost was exhilarating and overwhelming all of my senses. It was an incredibly beautiful feeling. Not out of body. Not strange. Not hippy-dippy or acid-washed, just real. I stood there for what felt like forever, humbled by the majesty that is life on this planet, until I was cued to open my eyes and witness the sun as I had never seen before, blasting through the clouds and shining beams of light onto the windrows of compost and onto the amazing earth that we get to call home.


The quiet hum that started my inward journey started dissipating back into all of the sounds of life that surround our farm… cows moo’ing out in pasture, bees buzzing through the spring flowers along the fence-line, and birds singing from the tree-line above me… it was glorious! I breathed in deeply the morning air and pressed the tip of the compost thermometer into the heart of the living, breathing, decomposition of the windrow before me.


Taking Temps of Windrows

The temperature on the dial of the thermometer read a hundred and forty. The compost was cooking. Doing it’s thing. Mimicking nature. The life inside was thriving as it broke down the organic matter from our farm. I looked over at the next windrow, then the next and the next. A smile washed over my face. I had been given a gift that morning. I had been graced with the power of compost.


© Randy Ritchie 2019

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