Transition and Transformation

Every writer should have a worm colony to eat her spent words. Especially if she’s grieving the loss of her beloved dog.

His name was Marley. We named him after the great Bob Marley. This was before "Marley and Me."

His name was Marley. We named him after the great Bob Marley. (This was before “Marley and Me.”)

I feed my drafts to the shredder when they’ve served their purpose. The shredder cross-cuts everything into bits the width of a highlighter’s stroke, the length of the tiniest paperclip. When the receptacle is full, I shower this ticker tape parade over one of four worm farms I’ve got going right now.

Worm pit after ticker tape parade

Worm pit after ticker tape parade, with rainwater.

Are they actually eating my words or are they just nesting there, my happy, scrappy red wigglers, snug in moist paper and a bit of soil and leaves? With rotting vegetable parings for their buffet.

I wrote once long ago, or stole the idea, of everything in a writer’s life becoming compost. “It’s all material,” an early writing teacher told me. Now even my stilted phrases and test drafts and failed pieces have become compost.

I’m feeding the worms that in turn offer their pooped-out product to nourish my soil—soil in which we grow the food that feeds the writer who makes the words that shelter the worms. A closed loop.

Also in the worm bins? Junk mail, that clutters my desk until I go on a shredding rampage. Cardboard toilet paper rolls chopped into bits. Tea leaves from my tea ball. Shed leaves from houseplants. Newspapers. Anything else I can think of: Q tips, napkins, toothpicks, and other rarely used ephemera.

Also: Mats cut from the cat’s britches, tangled there over weeks of neglect while I worried over her brother, the dog. Tissues loaded with my snot and tears, from meltdowns over that same dog’s decline.

Moistened with rainwater, it all melts together into the special kind of slop that worms (I’m told) adore—sweetened with handfuls of veggie scraps and stale crackers and the like.

Worms at work

Worms at work

The dog died; the worms and time work together to turn something lost into something gained.

Sweet dreams, friend.

Sweet dreams, friend.

On the Solstice, Contemplating Home

On the longest day of the year, one week after leaving Playa, I’ve been thinking about all that “home” means to me. I loved Oregon’s pristine natural beauty. But I couldn’t wait to come home and walk the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood. Taking my dog Marley for a walk was high on my list on my first morning back.

It’s not perfect here. There’s litter, unlike in Lake County, OR, and sadly many of the neighborhood ash trees are not treated for emerald ash borer, so they are dying—a distressing sight. Poison ivy is rampant in untended corners. Plus it’s really damned humid. But I still walk along with my heart singing “home,” loving the big sycamores and tulip poplars, enjoying all those daylilies and clematis vines, sampling a mulberry here and there.

And getting the latest scoop. Down the street, my big softie neighbor still has the pit bull who wandered into his yard—the one he swore he wouldn’t keep. Farther on, the retiree who always complimented me on my dog (Lord, how that poodle can prance) tells me he and his wife are moving to a condo after 47 years here, but a young family up the street will be moving in. I learn about another neighbor’s dog’s bout with pneumonia. And so on.

Walking is one of the ways I savor my neighborhood, but it’s not the only way. About the second thing I did that day was ride my bike with Judy to the kickoff of the Irvington Folk Festival, a weeklong extravaganza that opened with an outdoor bluegrass concert. I’m no bluegrass aficionado, though I love a good Rocky Top as much as the next person. What I went for, and got, was the people.

In the crowd were Rosemary, and also Laura, two women who helped me found the Irvington Green Initiative years ago. Also our neighbor Pat, who told us of a possible grant for a native plant/foraging project we’ve been scheming.

We sat with Heidi and Mike, longtime gardening buddies who happened to bike up at the same time as we did, midconcert. Behind us were Jerome and his family. That was fortuitous, because I could update him on our sweetgum tree. (Arborist Jerome has a business called Tree-Centric, which I’ve blogged about before. A few weeks ago he assessed our ailing sweetgum, taking soil samples and cutting away girdling roots. The cost of his professional expertise? A loaf of homebaked bread.)

Jerome offered both his strawberry patch and serviceberry grove for picking. Though the strawberries were done, here's the lovely haul of serviceberries my friends and I made that morning.

Jerome offered both his strawberry patch and serviceberry grove for picking. Though the strawberries were done, here’s the lovely haul of serviceberries my friends and I made that morning.

Somehow, over the years, my roots have grown deep in this place. I grieve with friends who lost their 13-year-old German Shepherd, one of a gang of Marley met in the park as a pup. I pick mulberries and serviceberries (some from Jerome’s yard) while chatting with good friends. My yoga buddies welcome me back vociferously. I barter for Thai massage from a neighbor.

All that, plus (last night) hearing local musicians rock out, after eating at the new deli that sources everything it can locally.

How did I get so lucky? I don’t know, but I’ll contemplate the answer while biking to the park for the folk festival’s finale (and, bonus: alternative gift fair).