A Broken Circle

My compost bin is quiet like a tomb. The dark, moist soil lies still as a corpse.

But the corpses are gone. Thousands of tiny carcasses were scraped off the top of the soil, where they had futilely sought escape as they writhed in heart-wrenching anguish, their cells collapsing in the oven of my sun-baked car.

Their absence is a wistful ache in my heart. I want to laugh at myself for getting attached to a box of earthworms, but I’m genuinely too sad to laugh. I hate the way they died. I hate that I think about it every time I throw away an apple core. I hate that my generator of life was so quickly transformed into a mass grave for such amazingly productive creatures.

I loved the entire concept of vermicomposting: how my food scraps, otherwise destined to contribute more toxic greenhouse gases than anything else in a landfill, were food for earthworms that contributed nutrient-rich castings to the box of soil in which they lived. Hidden in my kitchen closet, they diligently broke down every banana peel and every broccoli stem before it could rot. I marveled at their efficiency. I took pride in talking down the incredulity of every person who wondered aloud, “But doesn’t it smell?” The compost bin was a self-contained box of life-nurturing soil in a society where dirt is thought of as simply a nuisance, where food can be considered trash, where earthworms are assumed to be unimportant or useless or gross.

For eight months they neatly transformed my trash into gourmet food for plants. And then they roasted to death, in masse, in the backseat of my car. Is it really so incomprehensible that I’d mourn that?