The Significance of Compost

October 6, 2008
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All the things my grandmother taught me.
You asked once what I would remember.
This and much more.
Step One: Buy a tomato plant.

“Don’t waste your life with your head in the clouds. You are not a bird. When you’ve leveled yourself back to the ground, clean your room and then we’ll talk.”
Along the rows of the market, from the borders to the hanging trellises were spiky, green (with the lightest touches of yellow) vegetation that glimmered under the rays of artificial sun. I tug gently on one of the smooth viridian blades. It’s delightfully cool under my fingertips. I keep going though; I can’t seem to hold still in this open air market with new exciting things that are happening. I wanted to be happening too. The ice cream cone in my hand is melting, dripping over the edges onto my dress and over my fingertips. I don’t care. Ice cream tastes best when it’s melting, sliding down your throat, smooth, and just the right temperature under the scorching summer sun. At some point, I don’t remember when, I get some sticky, sweet ice cream in my hair and on my shoes staining the solid blacks. With the change in my little blue purse I bought tomato seeds.
Grandmother would not be happy.
Looking back I don’t even remember why I wanted them. I knew next to nothing about tomatoes or plants in general, namely how to keep them alive. Did I feed them? What do tomatoes eat? Could we buy them food at the store? Everyone in my little four year old world knew exactly what they were doing. I wanted, at least one moment, to do something without an agenda, on a whim, of my own volition. If I could plant these tomatoes, then I would prove that you didn’t need to exact every detail of your life to be successful. I didn’t have to wait for everything.

Step Two: Bury the plant deeply under compost.

“Never ask the questions that you cannot answer yourself. The best way to learn something to figure out the idea yourself. No one can teach you everything. You must teach yourself.”

The little card adhered to the side of the pot said to bury the plant with soil and compost. I had no idea what compost was. I was alone at home. Along with grandmother, that is. I was afraid to ask. Com…post? As in post mail? Letters? What does mail have to do with planting? Adults are very strange, I had long since decided, no one else I knew would used words that were completely unrelated to what they described.
I paused as I glance quickly at the half rooted plant crushed beneath my tiny fingers. If I buried this around my tomatoes, would it be the same as compost? Should I go home and rip up a few letters? Dirt and green smudges color my hands and feet. I make a face. Grandmother was not going to be happy. But I shrug it off. Sometimes I don’t think that adults remember the little things that can make you happy. The grass smells fresh and rays of sunlight streamed through the trees. If they didn’t grow here, I decided, there would be no place in the world they possibly could.

Step Three: Watch it grow.


“You must do something in order to get what you want, wishing something will never come true.”

Everyday after school for three weeks, I would check on my tomatoes. In my childish hopes, I imagined what they would look like. I pictured long, sturdy stalks curving to the weight of supporting the weight of fresh, ripe, red fruit. I imagined the success and accomplishment I would feel. The days grew longer. When nothing really changed, I gradually went less frequently.
Soon, I stopped going at all.

The tomatoes didn’t grow that year. Or the next. We had to leave the plant when we moved, although, to be honest, by that time, I had forgotten it completely.

Step Four: Repeat.


“If you dig a million holes looking for water, you won’t ever find it. You can’t find something if you don’t really want to find it. If you don’t put your entire being into searching. You will be lost.”

It wasn’t until my little sister turned four; that I even thought of tomatoes. I forgot how happy they made me. I know what compost is now. I know a lot more than I did before. We have the garden that I always dreamed of now and in my little corner, I plant tomatoes. Every spring, I pile a fresh layer of compost, a mixture of dead plants around the soil of my tomatoes. I think it’s beautiful, that even after something is gone- it can change someone else’s life.
Do things ever really die? Doesn’t a part of them live on in you? Doesn’t a part of them make you who you are? There are things that we should leave behind, but can’t because they have already touched our lives in a deep and incomprehensible way.
I still keep those empty seed packets to remind myself that sometimes we carry with us the things we should have left behind.





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