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Compost Heap of Ideas: Somewhere Between Thought and Forgetfulness

Each morning you have to break through the dead rubble afresh so as to reach the living warm seed.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

Forgetfulness is not oblivion, just as the leaves falling from a tree aren’t a sure sign of death. In the Winter of forgetfulness, memories are buried beneath the rituals of the everyday, chopped to pieces and scattered by dreams. Scraps such as lettuce ends and withered potatoes are dumped into a compost heap and buried, then subsequently chopped to pieces by the shovel that repeats this process, over and over again. Earthworms wriggle through the bounty from above, while the temperature rises through the decomposition, leaving a bare patch of earth, even in a snowscape. Microbial breakdown of these scraps acts like the neurons of the restless mind, where a hidden metamorphosis takes place, unseen and unregarded by the one with the shovel and the scraps that are treasures to the subterranean ones, neuron or microbe, both numbering in the billions. Thick compost soil turns to black gold in Winter, when things are hidden and far fewer footsteps pass, save for a scavenging dog. In the deadness of the dead season, the compost heap comes to life.

My thinking, like everyone’s, has sticking to it the shriveled remains of my earlier (withered) ideas.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

While sleep has been called a kind of death, sleep is where the brain acts like a compost heap, seemingly quiet, but microbial neurons are doing their work. Much like the scraps of the compost, forgotten things aren’t gone. To forget is to tuck away, to bury, to leave behind without a thought, but to lose a memory is never to know a forgetfulness of that memory. That kind of loss is like the lettuce ends and withered potatoes being tossed into the fire, where their ashes are carried away by the winds of oblivion. Even so, the basic carbon of those ashes help to make a little something of the world, adding a dusting of basic carbon to the land. Just as an artist creates her own predecessors, so do the shriveled remains of memories stick to our ‘fresh’ ideas. Nothing is original, but many things are fresh. There is no escaping the past when this present has already become past in the midst of reading this sentence...again. All is in flux. When temperatures plummet low enough for the compost heap to freeze, things are still in flux. The pressure and variable temperatures are still doing their work, until Spring brings the thawing air and the latent seeds of innumerable kinds of vegetables begin to sprout from that compost heap, long before the garden begins to grow, or the first signs of leaves are on the trees.

Even a soul submerged in sleep

Is hard at work, and helps

Make something of the world.

— Heraclitus

There’s a potato box sitting next to the compost heap in my yard. Earlier this year, I thoughtfully added cuttings of a variety of potatoes, allowing them to sprout their nightshade leaves, before burning those and adding more cuttings, on and on, as one does with such a thing. It was a relatively thoughtful endeavor, one that was simple in construction, but was reserved for a singular thing: potatoes. Come Fall, I dug into the chest-high box and pulled out around forty potatoes, far less than I’d hoped for. Only a few days later, I was turning the compost pile and up popped a gorgeous purple potato, like a jewel covered in soot. When I began to sort through the soil, heaps of potatoes were coming up from the compost: Idahos, Reds, Carolina Golds, more Purples, some that I’d forgotten the name of, but would remember sometime later. In that forgotten heap of scraps, a bounty of potatoes emerged, while ‘guest’ cherry tomatoes are still growing along the purlieus of the compost. In that dark-rich heap of forgetfulness, a thousand and one potato eyes had taken root, without a careful hand in the world to guide them.

Hayden Moore

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