Voyage au bout de la gadoues

photo (10)The wet and cold outside is not quite as wet nor as cold as before, the overcast days sometimes not as overcast and others break into full sun, the dull days seem to be finally giving way to a more exciting times as new life springs out of the ground and new cycles of weather events come fast in from all directions. In the spring there is so much potential. We can shift from disbelief that water can be so destructive when it comes in solid form as to be totally overwhelmed it comes in liquid and gaseous and moves and sifts between the stones of our foundations and oozes squishy wishy up burbling from the ground as small geysers as we walk across the still-brown field, opens our creeks and flows over their banks, takes all manner of lawn items and relocates them, or takes everything on the street and washes it to perfectly cover the storm drain allowing a feted little pond to expand for a time. We have indeed thawed.
In Gothem this means months of icy puddles of dog pee ripen at once. In the woodlands and valleys of the Lost Kingdom this means the clay is butter stuck to our boots and the rotting leaf piles from last season are but small piles now smell sad and cold in the warming air.
There are fewer bees. But some still dance in the sun. Fewer spring peeper frogs. But some still sound off at the pond. The wild onions smell is the same as always and the poison ivy is starting to bud as it does in bright red. But enough of everything we remember, those signs that are ingrained in our collective consciousness perhaps hereditary fibers for us to know that we must start preparing our land, flower beds, window boxes, or those sad pots we have kept on the fire escape all winter and can now rest from the ice and put in the sink in order to jam our hands into some small parcel of earth, connect to the land no matter how small or filled with those strange Styrofoam bibbies found in commercial potting soil. We wonder how it is the trees know when to start their sap running. How do we know when to change to those popular spring fashions?
This is the time to turn the soil. To gather those piles from close to the barn when the weather was too harsh to move the manure far and to assemble it in a proper pile, to compost it. To those in urban areas, to the rooftop hipster gardener (ahem… this blogger grew pumpkins on the roof of a loft in Brooklyn) who goes to mulchfest or whatever the municipal giveaway is of rendered leaf scraps and gum wrappers from the year before, to the member of some community garden or other scrapper who tosses a few tea bags (minus the staples) and coffee Bustelo grinds and the occasional apple core, what the non-urban gardener speaks of when they discuss compost is the careful scarab-like assembly of as much shit from non-omnivorous or non-carnivorous as can be transported.
When I was young we had a fantastic manure pile… It was a wonder to behold…. My parent had read how to build one in Mother Earth News, the then Playboy Magazine of the Hippie sorts. I believe it came to the house in a brown wrapper. We lived in the suburbs and yet in a counter-culture way – long before counter-culture was kewl – and had quite a few animals on our 1/4th acre tract home GI Bill housy.
Two ponies, a few goats, several rabbits, a dog or two, a clutch of chickens, a cat or 40 depending on the breeding cycle and whoever survived the winter or didn’t wander into the road to be run over by the neighbor’s DeSoto or murdered by Freddie for crossing his property line. There was a lot of little furry death about me when I was young. The animals were laid to rest in the”woods” – a close of trees in what to a young child seemed like a forest but I am sure was just the corner of the yard, and the manure pile was in front of this make shift burial ground.
It was a pile of grand proportions created by careful building. We had turned our little red wagon into the primary transport of the soon to be black gold. An old wooden wheel barrow that perhaps had in the 1950s been built to decorate a lawn and give the impression of a pastoral landscape not help create it one load at a time was our other tool to unload the stalls and pick up the animal leavings. As we were young, particularly heavy piss-soaked loads of hay had to be moved with my brother at one handle and I at the other. We often picked up loads several times from the stall to the pile as we spilled this wooden wheelbarrow time and again.
In good years we could get the pile to cook. This is the true sign of a healthy manure pile. You get it to cook. Long before cookbooks that spoke of creative dinners brought to temperature in the center of such piles, Mother Earth News suggested these culinary blasphemies and we attempted some form of this but never the Thanksgiving dinner my parent threatened but my brother balked at. We once covered the pile with leafs and tricked local kids to jump in. We would dig for worms and often sold them. Each handful (this was decades ago we used our hands for dirt) was so full of worms I have never seen anything like it since with all the wriggling wiggling wonder. When the shit finally stopped steaming and froze over, we kids strapped on our makeshift skis and took the Flexible Flyer and turned it into our own 1970s ski bowl in an otherwise flat landscape – the actual ski bowl was the golf course but we rarely had gas money to get over there… Since my time on the Island, that spot has been paved over and turned into condos. Now that I think of if, that shit pile gave us hours of amusement that no train set or play house could have (we turned the play into a pigeon coop, but that is fodder for another post). I am sure it was just simple bump in the yard but for us, it was a mountain.
photo (9)I suppose I have been searching for that manure pile of my youth for some time. I know cow plops are considered better, but for nostalgia and access, we are creating our contemporary pile for the garden out of horse offerings, leafs, scraps from the garden itself (although one has to be careful about seeds and pathogens in the detritus of garden waste. Some say add wood ash, others some say old beer and soda, and still others say to invest in some good bacteria. I will attempt to find some worms, I am sure we can make them thrive although upstate is no Long Island and nothing beat the mild winters and sandy soil that allowed a supernatural number of beneficial conditions required to decompose all manner of organic matter and in a way provide a valid metaphor for what occurs to all who live in suburbia. I am not sure we can make our current pile steam, but I am certain that by autumn will have something to spread. I have put the materials into an enclosure made of left over wire fence. The substrate is not optimum, but it was free. After scanning Craigslist for time time and then exchanging a many emails with a stranger, we finally descended on his house in order to remove the winter’s scraps – a mix of Shetland pony poop (what we had as kids), straw, and saw dust. The straw is somewhat of an issue because of it increases the change we will be spreading seeds of a certain kind of field grass that grows fast and hard, but the sawdust is the real issue since we are not sure what sort of wood this is (it will be clean and perhaps if they paid top dollar not pine), there may be acid qualities we need to remediate with lime in order to balance the PH. The good news is we have a poop contact, a stakeholder in our garden of sorts, and that this material is currently free – minus the cost of gas and time on our end to transport it on whatever warm spring weekend morning we sacrifice for this endeavour.
This week, we turn in what little dirt we created over the winter with our previous and pathetic pile, and to supplement what we have with commercial bags of Moo Dirt(tm) and work to ween ourselves off of the Industrial Yard Garden complex and work towards that American Freedom of the Yeoman Farmer. The spring is a time of hope and expectation where after the beds are turned and raked, after the first weeds are removed or those that grew up after harvest, that indeed this will be the season where things will bloom brighter, grow richer, thicker, sweeter, and that we will indeed win our war against the bugs, birds, weeds, and vermin that all come to rest what little organic produce we can wrestle from Mother Earth before winter decends again and we turn to our stores, that is the food stores and far-off shores that provide us our sustenance. And to this, let us turn in another bag of Moo Dirt. We are not independent and perhaps never will be. However, year four of this project is beginning. While we today live in a digital world unlike when I was young, out there in the yard cooks a pile that is as timeless as it may be sledable to a new generation.
photo (11)

One thought on “Voyage au bout de la gadoues

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