Thoughts from the bottom of the compost pile

When I was about 6 or 7, I received what was, I believe, my first pet: A toad. Not the most attractive or cuddly pet, but I liked him. Our family was driving home one rainy evening in rural Ohio, and there were toads all over the road. My dad stopped the truck, jumped out and put a toad in the pocket of his flannel shirt. My dad is just that kind of dad. He does extraordinary things like pull over for a toad. I can't tell you what kind of impression that leaves on a 7 year-old's imagination. We took the toad home, put him in a giant pickle jar, with some dirt and rocks, and I believe a water dish. My sister and I captured flies to feed him. We christened him, with a child's appreciation for rhyme, Road Toad.

I'm not sure how long we had Road Toad. But I do remember the day I had to release him. My dad explained that he had to go back to where he belonged, where he would be happy. I remember being a little sad, but I understood. I wanted Road Toad to be happy. So one weekend afternoon, my dad and I released him into the garden. Road Toad hopped away seeking the shade under some newly planted vegetables. I would look for him every now and again in the garden, but I don't recall if we ever saw each other again.

I bring this up because this morning, in my garden, some twenty-seven years later, my father once again gave me a toad. And I had to laugh at the excitement that little reptile elicited in me.

My parents drove down to Florida this past March to visit us, and with them they brought some compost for my new little garden. I know it was an Ohio toad because the bags were tied tightly shut, and it appeared in the wheelbarrow as I dumped the last of that bag into it this morning. I carefully scooped it up and placed it gently underneath my broccoli, hoping that it would eat the bugs that had been nibbling on it, my organic pest control.

As I continued gardening, I thought about the gifts the compost and its inhabitants - I later found an earthworm - were for my little garden. And I realized that it was an even greater gift than I first realized.

My father and I don't see eye-to-eye on much. He's conservative, I'm liberal, and this pertains to pretty much everything. Sometimes it's hard to have a conversation where you don't get your knickers in a twist or your feelings hurt. It often feels like we just don't speak the same language. But then I started gardening.

Gardening has become a neutral ground for us. We can talk about it without disagreement, at length and at ease. He knows a lot more about it than I do, and has great advice about how to make things better for me and my garden. And he likes what I'm doing because he's building some beds just like mine for my mom. I'm very thankful for all that - for my little toad, for my compost, for this spot in the garden where my father and I can put aside our different opinions and talk about staking tomatoes, or when to plant cucumbers.

There's a certain irony that I found this little gift amidst a pile of compost, and before I started to garden I certainly, and sadly, would've missed it. But I did see it, this morning in my garden, that part of my father rooted there in the shade under some newly planted vegetables.


Joshua McNichols said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! Great writing.

jtdarby said...

I just have to post a link to this Jimmies video . . .