Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The Mosque and the Brush Pile
I’ve been haunted by what is happening in Egypt. First Tunisia tossed out their leader, then the protests started in Egypt…who saw it coming? It feels like the Berlin wall—one night, while I was driving to Washington D.C. for a NARAL rally, the wall came down. Sue told us when we arrived, shocked. Looking back now, there were clearly cracks in the façade, but at the time—bang, down. Egypt feels like that. I think about one of the exchange students from last year, Shehab, who is from Egypt. I listen closely—are the protesters targeting educated, better off Egyptians? Is he safe? This is, after all, the function of exchange students—to give us a window into another country, a person to think about when something happens there, a connection to another place. And Shehab is such an excellent ambassador, intelligent, thoughtful, kind. So, I worry and listen closely to Democracy Now, because the senior producer of the show is Egyptian and on the ground there.
It was warm and sunny this weekend, so we attacked the brush pile in the far back corner of the yard. When we first moved in, I was inspired by the Findhorn Garden, where the spirits tell the gardeners what to plant, when, and how, and decided that we needed a wild place in the yard for the nature spirits to live—hence, the brush pile. It was also convenient; it was where we dumped all of the laurel hedge trimmings, and old wood from decaying compost bins, and fig branches, as well as the Christmas tree. It housed at least one possum family, and a few rats. The cats loved it. However, it has encroached about a foot a year. After ten years, that’s a significant chunk of real estate in an urban yard, even for nature spirits. Something had to go.
I can see the mosque as I begin work on the pile, casually pulling on a long branch about two inches in diameter. It snaps, rotten through. I tug at another—this is like playing pickup sticks as a child, where one stick shifts the entire stack. It also breaks easily. Soon, I have piles—dry branches from the top for burning, long wet, slimy branches broken down into smaller pieces to facilitate composting, and a constant shifting of almost compost—leaves and small stuff. The old compost bin is covered in various fungi; there is a lovely orange slime mold on a log; the figs are nasty and slippery. Soon, I figure out that just walking on the pile breaks it down even faster, so I start jumping up and down. Mark comes out, looks at the project, and starts the fire on one of the garden beds. Once that is burning, he cuts up the large branches that don’t break under foot. After an hour, I find the old willow logs from an ice storm eight years ago. We used most for firewood, but some were just to awkward to split, so we scarified them to the nature spirits. There pieces, at the bottom of the pile, are still dry, which is pretty amazing for Oregon in January.
As I work, I keep thinking of Egypt—Hosni Mubarak floats through my brain. I wonder what is happening now—what will be on the news in the morning? Will it spread—Jordan? Saudi Arabia? Democracy coming from the people, not from the United States and military intervention. How cool would it be if this succeeded—if people, peacefully protesting, could shift the balance of power in the Middle East, if peaceful action was more successful than the American military might. If Martin Luther King was right—“We shall overcome because the arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”—and moral, non-violent protest can move mountains?
The pile is rapidly breaking down. Stomping on the surface has compacted it by half and we’re clearing ground. Mark sets up another compost hoop and shovels the almost compost in, stopping to dream of a covered work area in the back corner. I hack back blackberry vines and tug on ten foot long branches in the back. We find bare ground we have not seen in years. Our neighbors walk down the alley and Lucy the Accoster cat follows them almost into their apartments. The sun is going down, the air is cooling off, I’m getting Hungary for dinner. The chickens are considering their roosts for the night with quiet conversations. We stop. We have made far more progress than I would have thought possible a few hours ago—the task will be done tomorrow. It feels good. Before I move inside, I glance towards the mosque—the crescent moon that defines the space—and wish for peace.