I didn’t see for her the first six weeks. She was a ghost. Ours had been a cyber-space relationship, an invisible link through which we met, hatched an agreement and smoothed out the details like, “Are peach pits allowed?” Then, one day, an empty bucket appeared outside the front door. It was white, held five gallons, and had a screw top lid. A title bent itself neatly around the curved surface - "Earth Stew".
During the next week Judy and I busied ourselves learning the ins and outs of composting. We tossed in rinds, coffee grounds, veggie peelings, fruits and eggshells. We made a little list of the no-nos; meat, dairy, bones, paper products, plants and roots. It was a wonder how much compost two people generate. To our amazement it never smelled. We could sit it right on the kitchen floor. The cap sealed it like Tutankhamun's tomb. When full it weighed 25 lbs - Yikes! This was good because in the Spring we would be gifted 5 lbs of pure compost fertilizer for every 75 lbs of compost we contributed.
Every second week I touched open a digital reminder to place the treasure laden container on the front porch. And so I did. Then, not unlike some unseen, environmental tooth fairy, the bucket simply disappeared, a new one taking its place. Did this person really exist?
Finally, one very warm sunny day on the way back from my three mile walk, I spied her in front of the house heaving our bucket into her white van. I rushed down the block as fast as my 73 year old legs could carry me and called out to her.
"Oh! Hi Bob." She called back as if we were old fiends about to chew the fat, which we did.
I learned she did all the work on her own. She retrieved the buckets, emptied them, cleaned them, and processed the stuff. She showed me her clip board with all the names and addresses of her customers. There were a lot of them. She suggested we move in the shade of our front yard Maple and we carried on. We talked about her arm that ached and how she was thinking about a buying a power washer instead of scrubbing each pail by hand. A composter's version of carpel tunnel or maybe tennis elbow I suppose. We agreed whole-heartily about the importance of composting and commiserated about the condition of the environment.
I asked her if she would be out of business if Madison decided to go big time and start collecting compost. She told me that she had expected to be out of business years ago and had a plan for that. She would become a compost consultant and trainer. She would go peoples' homes and teach about the multifaceted world of composting. Compost was her life, her mission, her journey for better or worse.
I don't know how long we spoke but I knew she busy and she sounded a bit weary, so I let her go. Her last words to me were "If you want real change you have to work for it. There is no other way." I watched her drive away.
At that moment I decided to write about the importance of composting. Check that! The real story here is not about the stew but about the woman who makes it. In an age of super heroes, like Iron Man and the Hulk and Superman she seems to me to be a Wonder Woman. I will write about her. I will call her and get the details of her story and pass them on to you. That’s what a good reporter would do.
Wait! No, No.... It occurred to me that I really don’t want to know the details.
I want to think there is some magic in it all: that she really 'is' a ghost of sorts, that she drives her truck through some time portal at the end of a graveled, weed infested farm road. On the other side stands a small, ancient, paint free farm house. It leans, firmly tied to the ground by impossibly tall grasses and thistles. She throws open the storm doors to a below-ground fruit cellar, and totes the buckets two at a time down weathered steps. She crowds ours up against all the others on a stone floor in a stone walled basement. Next she nestles her tall-coned leather cap atop her head, dons a heavily leaved cape of nature's greenery and slowly mumbles, swinging an antediluvian hickory rod to and fro. Just like Mickey's brooms the buckets dance and throw off there lids. The dregs of the sweet, rotting elixir waft up in an unending airborne river flowing to the monstrous caldron whose contents are beginning to swirl and bubble. Outside the trees and grasses and plants and even the worm in his tunnel stir impatiently, anticipating the feast of nutrients soon to come.
Anyway, that's what I like to think. I know it's not true. It is strange, though, that I can't remember what she looked like and I'm not totally sure anymore if her van was white. Was it a van? I realize it sounds crazy but she is texting me even as I write. "Please have your bucket out by 8:00 AM for collection."
With container in hand I walk across the dining room, down the steps to the front door. On the stoop I look up and down the street as I place it next to Judy's flowers. Now closing the door, I gaze back through it's oval window at the bloated bucket of earth stew. I wonder if, this time, I’ll see her take it away.
I hope not.