April 9th, 2011

The Sweet Smell of Excess

I love the smell of composted manure. I recently had the pleasure of spending a Saturday afternoon helping bag two mountains of composted steer manure for a charity sale alongside dozens of other volunteers. (In support of the wonderful Vancouver organization Kinbrace, which houses refugees and supports refugee claimants through a complicated and difficult process.) Backs ached, blisters bloomed, jokes were made about shovelling shit, and a good time was had by all.

For the non-gardeners out there, composted manure (whether steer, sheep, or mushroom) doesn’t look or smell like manure. But it doesn’t smell like anything besides itself either. When you break the moist, rich lumps apart with your hands (wearing hand-hugging nitrile gloves) an overwhelming aroma of mulched grass and straw, damp soil, and a mellow tang (I know, that sounds like a contradiction) reminiscent of a lover’s armpit and a baby’s bottom overwhelms your senses. But even that’s not getting it quite right. It’s soulful, dank, and urgent. I actually bring handfuls up to my nose, oddly feeling as if I’m doing something clandestine.

“You sniff cow-pies,” my son says accusingly. “That’s disgusting.” Composted cow-pies. What’s not to love? Because the other component of that smell is the promises and dark secrets of the earth and what it’s going to yield this season.