When I was growing up, we had something called "The Pit," where we dumped vegetable scraps and coffee grounds. It was in the center of the garden, a huge depression five or six feet across and maybe ten feet long. We used to jump it as kids. I don't know how deep it was, because I was never brave enough to get in it. I never really understood what it was for, just that we threw cucumber peelings into an old avocado green pitcher kept by the sink and then, when the fruit flies were just starting to get to be annoying, we'd take the pitcher out to the garden and empty the contents into The Pit. It never occurred to me to question the purpose of The Pit or to wonder why none of my friends' families had one. Sometimes plants would grow in The Pit, melons and pumpkins and whatever other seeds took hold in what was probably a very nutrient rich environment, but it seems like we never picked them.
I knew a girl from my hometown whose family had a similar way of dealing with refuse. Except they didn't have a Pit. Instead, her mother would just give her the scraps and tell her to go out in the woods and bury them. I'm not sure if it was always the same hole or if maybe their property was littered with little mounds hiding the decomposing skins of vegetables and egg shells. Their method sounds like a scene from a thrilling folk tale, where the little girl sneaks out the back door at night to go into the dark woods and bury something secret while someone menacing pounds at the front door. My family's routine is more like a scene from Deliverance.
We buried pets in The Pit. We'd lay them to rest inside paper grocery bags. I once looked in one of those bags at the body of a cat who had met with a car. It had been dead a while, and there were bugs eating at the corpse. There were so many it looked like a little gray blanket, and only by watching closely could you see that it was made up of a thousand little scavengers, moving ever so slightly as they did Nature's dirty work. It's best not to look inside the bag.
Once, and it seems a crime to tell this story so close to Mother's Day, Mama buried some kittens alive in The Pit. One of our cats had a litter and then abandoned them, and they were sickly. Maybe so sickly that they didn't move or mew when given a test poke. So Mama did the hard thing and buried them in The Pit. Later, I was walking in the garden when I heard mewing coming from The Pit. I ran inside to tell Mama, unaware that she'd buried them. Our mother cats were always moving their babies to protect them from the hands of eager little girls, so I thought that this was just the new sanctuary. But Mama knew. Her eyes widened in horrified understanding. We got out the shovel and dug the kittens up. A couple of them were really dead, but a couple were still clinging to what must have been a very disappointing life. We tried to nurse them with a drinking straw and 2% milk, but they died anyway a few days later. And we buried them again in The Pit. Ashes to ashes to ashes, dust to dust to dust.
Josh and I decided to start composting at the new house. We scoped out the back yard and found a natural hole in the corner. We kept a big white mixing bowl on the kitchen counter, and we dumped onion skins, egg shells, coffee grounds, and vegetables that had gone mushy in the fridge inside. When the bowl was overflowing, one of us would take it out to the back yard and dump it. Except one or both of us forgot where the hole was, and so The Compost Hole became more like The Compost General Vicinity. I'm sure the various critters who passed through thought it was a grand buffet.
Someone asked me what we were going to do with the compost. Since I had lived in a place for 18 years, composting all the time and never knowing why, it seemed a weird question. Isn't that what you do with that stuff? Still to this day, I have no idea if my parents ever dig out The Pit to reap the benefits of all that crap they sowed. Josh had grand ideas about a garden, but I suppose it was more like nostalgia for me. Plus, I dunno, it's sort of a crunchily romantic idea anyway, giving back to the earth, contributing to the circle of life rather than always just taking, taking, taking. Dust to dust to dust.