Tomorrow I fly to Los Angeles for a long weekend to take part in the celebrations of my goddaughter’s college graduation and the high school graduation of her younger sister. The eldest girl was just a baby when I moved to Connecticut nearly 20 years ago, and I’ve tried to stay as close to the family as possible, given the continent that now lies between us.
Four days of intermittent rain has given way to sunshine, and getting home from work I debate letting the grass grow until I get back. It will be a jungle by then, and rain is forecast to start the coming week, but I’m inclined to put off mowing. It hardly needs it, as I don’t mind a shaggy yard or setting the mower on high. Besides, I have yet to pack, lock in care for the dog and cat and otherwise prepare to be gone from my house for the next few days.
Tidying up my cubicle prior to taking off from work, I’ve brought brought home a black plastic bag of shredded office paper that I keep under the desk. It’s now full, and I head out to the tool shed to set it inside, planning to add it to my pile with the grass clippings I gather upon my return.
Hanging from the handle of the tool shed door is a groaning plastic bag full of rotting food. I look inside to see half a watermelon gone bad, a dozen puckered-up Red Delicious apples and assorted other moldy fruit. I remember that a friend who lives down the street is moving, and had mentioned he needed to clean out is fridge.
I can’t find a spare bucket or bin with a lid, as my back-fence neighbor does, to stash the stuff. For a moment I consider adding the donated fridge leftovers to the compost bucket my back-fence neighbors keep and which I take off their hands, but pawning off such a cornucopia of spoiling fruit, even temporarily, is an odd bit of regifting, even for me.
My pile’s far enough along that I could simply dig a fence-post type hole to bury the rotting fruit, but then I spot the heap of grass clippings along the backside. My across-the-street neighbor has mowed his lawn and given me his clippings.
So I decide to give my lawn a quick mow, figuring I’ve got just enough daylight to collect a bag of clippings and make an impromptu insertion to my pile with my collected recyclables before I go away.
If not a true pet — I often treat it like one — my pile and the care and feeding and tending I lavish upon it and the suburban backyard that supports it, certainly makes it my pet hobby.
The dog, as usual, torments both the mower and me, setting his tennis ball in its path. It’s a game of chicken we’ve played for years, and now I’ve mostly trained him to set the slathery ball in the just-cut grass for me to retrieve without pausing, to toss it again.
I stop twice to empty the grass catcher of its load of clippings and tree dander, adding the loads to the collection of grass left by my neighbor with the lawn on steroids and leaving behind a thick trail of clippings. After about 40 minutes of fast-paced mowing, the lawn is once more clean-cut.
I have about an hour left of daylight to work my pile. After excavating and then filling the back and front with the past two loads of grass clippings and kitchen recyclables, I consider tackling one of the sides. But that would require more effort. So I quickly carve out a wide hole in the top, sprinkling grass clippings as I excavate the rich moist leaf litter outward to the sides. Like a miner following a vein, I tunnel deeper in two spots toward either side, teasing out the compacted leaves of winter.
Stopping about two, three feet down, I toss in the stemmy cilantro that grows like weeds throughout my kitchen garden, then add my friend’s fridge clean-out, not bothering even to chop up the foot-long wedge of past-prime watermelon. I scrap a layer of wholish leaves from various spots around the outer perimeter of the pile, depositing them on top of the kitchen slop, add another layer of fresh grass clippings, then spread a blanket of the bright-white shredded office paper. I repeat, upending my own kitchen bucket, and mix it with more old leaves and new clippings, and top it off with the rest of the paper shreds.
To back fill, I borrow wholesale from the bottom front and back of my pile, loping off the steppes front and back to layer the clippings and waste. Having aired out over the past couple weeks, this crumbly mix of leaf mold makes a fine, breathable lid over my pile.
My pile is now packed for the long weekend, even if I am not yet. It now almost teeters in its verticality. I’ve taken my pile as far as it can go front and back; next I will work my way into the dark center from the sides.