Friday, December 9, 2011

Leftovers, Fir-Tree Style

Please welcome our guest today, Nancy Adams. Nancy is a librarian, freelance editor, and writer of mysteries and fantasy. Her short story "Saint Nick and the Fir Tree" has just come out in both e-book and print formats. Another short story, "The Secret of the Red Mullet," a historical mystery, is published in FISH TALES: the Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press, 2011).  Nancy is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. In her spare time she reads, sleeps, and whacks the occasional dust bunny. Find out more about Nancy and her writing at:

Trees and humans have very different ideas about what constitutes food. In the plant kingdom, there are no leftovers. Everything is used. Nourishing humus from decomposing leaves, the natural fertilizer of manure . . . What humans call waste. Leftovers.

Potato peelings left from Thanksgiving's mashed potatoes. Apple peelings from that homemade apple pie. Not exactly leftovers, but left behind nevertheless. These can turn into food for plants. Not in their current raw state, but cook a few months in a well maintained compost pile, et voila! They break down and join the rest of the compost ingredients, the perfect dish as far as plants are concerned.

There's a scene in "Saint Nick" where the Saint and the Tree are sitting in a diner. Fir Tree's become mobile, thanks to Nick's magic, but eating human food is another matter. When the Tree says there's nothing on the menu it can eat, Nick responds:

"Then keep quiet and suck on your soil. I'm starving. Just order a salad or something."

"A salad!" The thought made me so queasy, my sap almost burst through my bark. "That'd be cannibalism!"

Thinking about that scene now, in the context of compost, logically the "cannibalism" makes less sense. But emotionally, it resonated. It wasn't something I thought about: the words just tumbled out and felt right. Perhaps Tree's reaction mirrors the revulsion some of us experience at the thought of eating raw meat. Or eating fish when that big eye is staring at you out of the plate. Once salad ingredients are composted and "served" to the plant, any resemblance to green, living matter has vanished. Many of us prefer our meat dishes the same way.

In Fir Tree's world, human leftovers mean a bonanza for plants. No meat or oils, but anything left over from chopping or peeling vegetables or fruit. When I first read about compost, it appealed to the romantic in me: Nature's mysterious alchemy, transforming dross into gold.

Our own compost bin, out in the backyard, is sadly neglected these days. What with a full-time job and writing on weekends, I give it only minimum care. Dollops of vegetable leavings, but no fancy turning or layering or watering. Bags of manure get dumped in from time to time, and leaves in the fall. Someday, I say. Someday when I'm no longer working the day job, I'll take better care of the plants in our yard.

For now, I write about them. They'll have to be content with that.


Sophie Littlefield said...

hi nancy! in a *stunning* coincidence, i just started reading a book last night about, well, cannibalism. the author makes the point that consuming what's necessary to survive is an evolutionary practice going back to the beginning of time. So little fir tree is on the right track.

As for composting...good for you and everyone else who practices this. My dad was a composter in the 70s back when no one had heard of it. i like to think that he did so much of it that he got me a free pass.....i don't like the ewww factor. but i imagine juliet (and the rest of the crew around here) is bound to shame me into it before long!

Gigi Pandian said...

One of my most recent interesting discoveries was that our garden regenerated itself this fall. Due to other things going on in our life since the summer, we took a hiatus from the garden for 6 months, but it turns out the root vegetables have been thriving without us!

Juliet Blackwell said...

Yes, my long-term evil plan is to convert Sophie into a composter. I imagine once she takes it up, she'll be showing us all how to do it! Seriously, I love this -- love the fir tree, love the composting! I've got a survival of the fittest attitude towards my garden, too, but it's amazing to see how the plants respond to a little leftover lovin'.
Thanks for visiting, Nancy!

Rachael Herron said...

I have a friend who, when she learned the concept of composting, would stand in her backyard and chuck the apple cores and coffee grounds at the base of her tomato plants. She was so upset when they all died! Great post.

Nancy Adams said...

Thanks so much, Pens, for having me here. I'm honored to be in your company. Special thanks to my CP buddy Gigi for inviting me.

Sophie, I'm a HUGE fan of Stella Hardesty. She feels like a real person to me and I sometimes find myself asking: "What would Stella do?" I wonder, would Stella compost? As for the "ewww" factor, a well-managed compost pile should smell good: sweet and earthy. (One that isn't well-managed, well, let's not go there ...)

Thanks, Juliet and Rachel, for your warm welcome. I'm glad to know there are other composters out there!

Fir Tree sends its greetings to all the Pens!

Unknown said...

This was great. :) Thanks so much for visiting the Pens!! I want to compost. For awhile I had worms composting but our family of five had too much raw material for the worms so I stopped and sent the worms out into my yard. I need to get an outside bin--it's on my list. :)

Nancy Adams said...

Hi Lisa,

I love earthworms! Faithful tillers of the soil. There's the cutest children's book called "Diary of a Worm," all about a little earthworm and his spider buddy. I got it for my nephew and then got a copy for myself. It's one of my favorite picture books.

Edith Maxwell said...

Fun post, Nancy. I'm a big composter. I even recently bought a nice little metal can with a foot pedal for my workplace, and I take the vegetable leavings home once a week. I put in all the vegetable garden and kitchen stuff, plus leaves, and turn the pile once or twice in the summer. When my son is around, he even screens it for me. It's lovely to think of food returning to food.

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