The Truth, Mainly - 11/13/2000

Composting: Sweet things out of corruptions
by Leon Satterfield

"O! O! O!" I tell my wife, once again dropping the h off my O's to signify great anguish.

"You're leaving the h off your O's again," she says, looking up from her crossword puzzle. "I suppose that signifies great anguish. Another minor psychic wound, I imagine."

"Tis not so deep as a well," I say, lapsing into an ex-English teacher's last refuge by quoting Great Literature, "nor so wide as a church-door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve."

My head is full of other people's language. My wife identifies it for me.

"Mercutio," she says. "Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene l. So what's your problem?"

"I don't wanna talk about it," I say.

"It's the election, isn't it?" she says. "But I don't believe I've heard you quote Shakespeare in response to an election before. Usually you make pithy little comments like 'The People have spoken, the blundering blockheads.' Or 'They buttered their bread, now they can lie in it.' Or 'To hell with democracy.'"

"It's not the election," I say. "It's autumn."

"Yes it is," she says. "It comes every year between summer and winter and it's usually the nicest season we have. So why the great anguish?"

"You don't understand," I say. "It's the season leaves fall from trees."

She sighs and looks at the ceiling.

"You're anguished about getting old," she says. "The autumnal angst of aging that precedes the winter of your discontent. Right?"

"Hey, play fair," I say. "I'm the one who gets to quote whatzizname. And what's autumnal angst and winter discontent got to do with my anguish?"

"Part of the regeneration cycle of nature," she says. "You know. Summer maturity. Autumn old age. Winter dying. Spring rebirth."

"I'm talking about leaves falling off trees," I say. "That's all I'm talking about. And I'm not getting old."

"Then why," she asks, "do you say O! O! O! without the h?"

"Because," I say, "this year I have no fallen leaves to turn into compost to put on my garden next year. In fact, I have no garden. Thus I say O! O! O!"

"So," she says, "it's finally out. You hate our new town house."

"No," I say. "I really really like our new town house. But here there are no big trees for leaves to fall from. Thus I can't make compost to put on my non-existent garden next spring. That's all."

She gives me a look.

"You don't have enough to do," she says.

"But I like being retired," I say. "Being retired has finally allowed me to see time as but the stream I go a-fishing in."

"Thoreau," she says, "Walden, Chapter 2. Thoreau didn't have enough to do either."

"Well," I say, "at least he didn't live in a town house without any big trees to drop their leaves so a man could turn them into compost for a garden he doesn't even have because he lives in a town house."

"You're coming unwound," she says quietly. "You need your nap."

"I don't need no stinking nap," I say. "I need dead leaves."

She goes to the garage and comes back with a rake and a garbage bag.

"Here," she says. "Walk over to the park and get a bag of leaves. You can make a nice little compost pile to play in under the deck."

"Hah?" I say.

"Then next spring you can put your compost in the flower pots," she says. "That'll fulfill your primeval need to regenerate. And it'll get you out of the house for a while, you cranky old poop."

"I'm not a cranky old poop," I tell her. "Dammitalltohellanyway."

But I do get out of the house for a while.

I come back from the park with a bagful of leaves. I put them inside a little column of chicken wire I refused to throw away when we moved to the town house. When I wet the leaves, they're only about two feet deep.

But that's still enough to be a working compost pile, especially if I can find some chicken manure to help it along. I feel cosmically comforted by a phrase that comes to mind about how nature grows such sweet things out of such corruptions. I can't remember who said it.

And I have another thought: if sweet things can grow out of dead leaves and chicken manure, maybe something good can come from elections—even an election where 70 percent of us voted for a Defense of Marriage Amendment.

I go into the town house all excited to tell my wife about it.

"Good news!" I shout. "Sweet things growing out of corruptions!"

"Walt Whitman," she says. "This Compost, line 43."

Then she smiles a seductive smile.

"Come on over here," she says, "you cranky old poop, you."

I come on over.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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