Adding Compost to the Soil

Day after day of dazzling sunshine has lately lifted my spirits. It helps too that I sent off my poetry manuscript to the publisher this week and that the birds are back. Purple finches and dark-eyed juncos at our backyard feeder. White pelicans crowding the Red River. Hawks, eagles, and, of course, robins. A multitude of species starting to appear from what was a blank, barren landscape, and if anything demonstrates resilience, it’s this: how the earth can emerge from a long hard winter, once again full of life.

I’ve been thinking about resilience lately, in the same frame as I’ve been thinking about how to make meaning from loss. The most important thing, I’ve realized, is that we don’t really decide the meaning that will grow. It happens like a stubborn plant pushing up through a crack in concrete. Perhaps the best thing we can do is allow it. How our lives transform after loss is, I think, like how I’ve learned to describe what makes a good ending: surprising yet somehow inevitable.

And, yet, intention does help, doesn’t it? My mother, after her life was totally upended from the head-on collision in 1981 that nearly killed her and my brother, turned to the junk drawer in our kitchen one morning and pulled out a set of poster paints and found the new direction of her life.

After my brother died, I filled the numb, painful (yes, both at the same time) days with writing because that was how I knew to carry on, the work-in-progress becoming my life raft. But once I finished that book and it came time to embark on another, I found myself floundering, the raft taking on water. This winter, around mid-February, in a strange and new way, writing started becoming, to put it simply, not enough.

I hate even putting these words down. It feels a bit like a betrayal, like I’m failing miserably at ‘defining my brand.’ But like most artists (most, um, people), I am full of contradictions. As if to underline this point: on the day I’m writing this post about confusion around my writing path, I clicked on the daily writing tip from CBC in my email to find this:


Life is so weird. Sometimes you just have to laugh.

A few weeks ago, I went to a gardening talk with Kelly Leask from Prairie Originals, a nearby native plant nursery. Diversity equals resilience, she said. In this context, she meant a varied and rich ecosystem versus a monoculture, of course, but it got me thinking about personal diversity, about creative diversity.

Mostly, for years, all I’ve really done is write. When I took up knitting and became quickly obsessed with learning lace stitches, cabling, all the hard stuff immediately after knitting my first hole-riddled garter stitch scarf, J. and I were amazed. Suddenly I had a hobby. It’s the first real hobby – absorbing, enriching, deeply enjoyable – that I’ve ever had.

Contrast this with J. He is a man with a voracious appetite for learning and discovery. In the sixteen years we’ve been together, he has learned how to tie knots (and I mean, like, every knot), how to sail (hence: knots), how to fly fish (both Western and Japanese styles), how to tie his own flies, how to do auto-mechanics (!), how to survive in the wilderness on his own during solo canoe trips, how to paint with pastels, and, most recently, how to weld. Not to mention the fact that he just finished his Master’s degree in Special Education and will be graduating in June (can you tell that I’m proud?)

Deep loss, I’m learning, can do a bunch of stuff that isn’t expected. It can trigger a meaning crisis. It can make you question your path in life, your focus, your place. This is what’s happening to me, I think, and so, with support from my beloved, in between doing all the stuff I have to do, I’m allowing myself to follow my desire to get my hands on the earth as directly as possible.

Next month I’m taking a drop spindle spinning class to learn how to make my own yarn from sheep rovings and have started trying to find a wheel. The returning birds at my backyard feeder did not even have names for me until I looked them up a few days ago, around the same time that I dug up a clump of earth in our yard to determine the type of soil: sticky, thick clay, otherwise known as Red River gumbo.

This tricky soil can be amended by adding compost and sand, in order to improve drainage so that plants can breath in it and access the nutrients. An apt metaphor, don’t you think? Already I’m aware of the burgeoning poetic possibilities of my explorations (I mean, one of the parts on the spinning wheel is called the mother-of-all…) and that is exciting because, no matter what, I’m a writer.

Through language, ink-on-paper, I make sense of the world. It’s just that this sense-making is not so direct right now, I suppose. Not so pointed, not so clear. It’s demanding that I learn, that I look towards the broader fabric of life in order to locate the holes, knit together the rends, re-make myself, make myself whole, figure out where I fit.

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7 Responses to Adding Compost to the Soil

  1. Avatar
    Cary Richards May 27, 2018 at 4:19 pm #

    Great article, very insightful. Thanks for this

  2. Avatar
    Cheryl Sadowski April 28, 2018 at 7:18 am #

    Wonderful essay on self-realization. I always enjoy your posts. The comments on creative diversity resonated. For a long time I thought I had to choose to excel at writing, watercolors, cooking or gardening. It took a while to realize that In fact I did not have to choose: all creative avenues were available to me, all the time, depending on mood, focus at the time, even new ones I hadn’t yet experienced. (Writing is a bit different because I actually want to get somewhere with it, whereas the others are more creative outlets or hobbies.) Still, it felt much easier—and more authentic—to simply accept the diversity of a renaissance soul than to strive for some level of success or particular achievement that in the end felt closer to putting handcuffs on. (Sorry for writing so much on this; your topic and discovery clearly resonated….)

    • Lauren
      Lauren April 28, 2018 at 12:50 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Cheryl! I am really glad it resonated with you. There’s something about giving oneself permission to be wildly creative outside of practical expectations that’s new for me and valid (I have Puritan roots: can you tell 😉 ) But I’m realizing this can live with focus and discipline. This exploration is a work-in-progress! No need to apologize; great to hear your thoughts!

  3. Avatar
    Beth Burrows April 27, 2018 at 7:51 pm #

    Red River gumbo indeed…sometimes more frustrating to work with…yet so delightfully satisfying when the results mound up on the kitchen counter.
    It’s also excellent for sinking your hands into, and just allowing you to really connect with the earth…make sure you take time to close your eyes and just breath when you do that…it’s astonishing what comes from that. None of us are meant to stagnate. No matter how large and fierce the fire, how terrible the scorching seems…it’s just a release for seed lying long dormant, waiting for the time for them to grow.

    • Lauren
      Lauren April 28, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks for your lovely thoughts, Beth!

  4. Avatar
    Angie Gallop April 26, 2018 at 12:41 pm #

    One word for you: Lovely.

    Oh! And a tip: A local farmer I interviewed once said that she coped with her clay garden by viewing the earth as a “series of clay pots”. So… if amending *all* of your garden soil gets tiring, this approach might work.

    • Lauren
      Lauren April 26, 2018 at 3:39 pm #

      Such a great tip!!! Thank you!! (And thanks for the ‘lovely’ too). 🙂

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