As someone who is deeply concerned with sustainability and the impact of climate change on our planet, I have been known to spout the phrase 'composting is one of the greenest things you can do!' with a sort of manic excitement whenever discussions of green issues crop up in conversation. In fact, I wrote an article about it in 2012, but really I was still a bit of a compost virgin back then - I donned gardening gloves whenever I took the lid off the compost bin, and I was still talking to people about the peripheral facts, like how composting reduces landfill waste and dependence on fossil fuels, etc.
I had yet to dig my fingers into the compost heap and savour the worm juice under my nails.
When you spend as much time researching things like composting, talking about green issues, and reading science journals as I do, you start to see the beauty of intricacies of certain natural processes. One of these key operations is composting, which is significant enough to make you philosophise, as doing it helps you to see the whole of life as compost on a larger scale, to appreciate the truth of the rebirth-death cycle that dominates our planet. And after a while, you begin to see that composting is really rather sexy. Not in a semi-naked-women-covered-in-rotting-matter sort of way, but in a fertile, full-of-possibility way. Few places on the planet can claim to burst with as much life as a few square inches of warm, rotting compost. Every pile contains an orgy of bug life that makes the frolicking on Big Brother look like it was scripted by the Care Bears. In the world of compost, nothing is held back - mating, birth, death and decay take place simultaneously in a pile, all wrapped up in each other and on top of and under each other, together creating a positively fecund environment.
When you realise that in a seemingly insignificant decaying heap of compost there are complex and intimate communications taking place between insects and fungi, you begin to immerse yourself in the matter (though not literally. Yet). You start to revere the worms, and the cute way that they shy away from the light when you open the bin. I find myself surreptitiously extracting the odd worm just to marvel at it, before it worms its way out of my muddy fingers and back into its edible home. But the real dirty buggers, in my opinion, are the fungi and the bacteria, which aren't so easy to observe but that's just as well because they'd come with an X rating if your parents could see what they were upto without visual aids. They are responsible for much of the breakdown of matter into rich soil, a process that creates that unique composting smell, that pervading aroma heavy with their lust and their reproduction. After a while, you start to open the bin just to can get a sniff of that steamy aroma of new life, birth and rebirth. You begin to understand that compost piles are basically an orgasm of biodiversity that takes place amidst teeming bug life and decaying matter, between the slugs and the snails, under the mites and the beetles, over the larvae and the centipedes..
If you listen closely to your compost heap you can hear the squirming, the wriggling, maybe even the breeding and the spawning and the insect equivalent of panting, the bacterial equivalent of merging, and the fungi creeping, slurping consuming.. Fructiferous, continuous, there is no escaping the inevitability of the composting process: that everything has a purpose, to fuel and create new life. Humans are part of this process because we create compostable goods, the matter that is broken down in the bin, and also because when we pass away we become compost ourselves. We can either embrace these facts, and embrace life with them, or we can keep throwing our rubbish in the bin and adding to the landfill pile, and pretending that we will all live forever.
At the risk of sounding like an 'at-one-with-the-Earth'-hippie-type, I'd rather have a green burial, and become compostl. I like the idea of giving something back to the soil and the worms. I owe much to this decomposed matter: it has taught me about life cycles and interconnection in a way that those science lessons at school never could. It has taught me that the waste that humans produce is actually productive matter that is all part of a larger scheme on our planet - to merge, to recycle, to birth, and, as discussed earlier, to do it with style. In this small urban patch of the planet that I inhabit, it has given me access to something ancient and wild. So I can think of no better way to go than through this very dirty process - and, of course, it can also save the world. So my advice is - dig in. And yes, I do mean it literally this time.