I love going to the local dump, the landfill/garbage/recycling/toxic waste plant a few miles south of us in Petaluma. Dave and I go there to not only dispose of debris and recyclables, but to pick up compost for the front and back yards where we are working diligently to make something beautiful out of a lot of dirt.
Our front yard is still mostly dirt after the beneficiaries of the former owner of our house had some trees removed and left the roots so deeply embedded that we couldn’t plant anything. The roots were from two very old redwoods that had virtually destroyed the front of the house – the porch and roof eventually lifted about 4 inches above where they had been built. (It’s a long story, and one that cost a fair amount of cash (ours) to repair.)
The county no longer runs the local dump as a landfill, but primarily as a transfer station. I don’t know where they take our garbage and recycling, but it moves in and out of there like a well-oiled machine. Yes, they take oil recycling, too. And, old paint, but only on certain days.
When Nat and Owen were kids and used to go with us to the dump after a spring cleaning, it was still run as a landfill. Recycling wasn’t what it is today, and most people emptied their truckloads of metal, wood, greens, household debris, and clearly reusable items into the pits. The pits moved throughout the acreage such that on one trip, you would be throwing your stuff off the back of the truck facing west, and on another trip, you would be facing east. Because we only went a few times a year, I never saw how the operation was made new over the course of months. But, I always got a kick out of remembering what it looked like the last time, and how differently it looked on each new trip.
I will always remember the awful smell of the dump back in the old days. It was a stench that has stayed with me since the first time I visited. In the last few weeks, accompanying Dave to pick up compost, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact of no-smell. Who are these garbage engineers that have figured out how to create acre after acre of places to unload our cast-offs, all the while considering how much of what we use everyday is just crap that needs a place to land without destruction? Whoever they are, they are my new heroes.
One section of the dump is now committed to recycling yard greens and waste. There is an area for clean wood, which can be picked up for virtually cents on the dollar – quite handy for building garden containers and borders. The wood is cheap in comparison to new lumber from the local big box home improvement stores. You may have to be more creative in figuring out what size and shape to build your containers, but that’s part of the fun.
Another area is for compost, and this is where I can’t wait to return each weekend when we have ideas for planting new varieties of edibles and ornamentals in the yard. As we drive up the hill, watching the birds flying overhead appearing to have more fun playing with their tiny pilot birds than any of the frequent sky-bound guests above our house, I can feel the warmth of the soil before we enter the one-way path around the piles of dirt.
As we drive into the circle, we look for our parking spot, and are hopeful that we can park near our selected compost pile. When we are there for only a few bags of dirt, we park in the area designated for the vehicles too small for the half- and full-yard loads. This is where I have the most fun. Many of the customers are new to the experience of purchasing recycled dirt, and they ask questions of each other (and us) like:
- Where do you get the bags?
- How much do they cost?
- Should I pack the bags myself or should I move up to the area where I can get a whole truckload?
- Where do we pay?
- I didn’t bring a shovel, how do I pack my bags?
- How much does this compost cost?
- Which compost should I choose?
- What’s the difference between “organic high test” and the “amended compost”?
I usually just stand by the truck and listen. This is so much fun to watch people who have only bought 2 cubic foot bags of compost and potting soil from the big box stores for years, try out their dirt wings. I answer questions as I know the answers, and say, “I don’t know, try the trailer” a lot. So far, this season, the sun has been shining on our visits to the compost extravaganza. Sun, dirt, birds…a virtual smorgasbord for my feet2earth disposition.
People from all walks of life show up here – the regulars in their trucks, who drive straight to the far end of the circle and wait for the skip loaders to fill their truck beds with yards and half-yards; the privileged couples in their pristine sedans, waiting for instructions, and covering the trunks of their mid-size and luxury cars with plastic bags to protect the carpeted floors that usually only carry leather travel bags that typically prepare for vacations on far-away beaches; and the absolute newbies who show up in beater cars (many remind me of most of my vehicles over the years) asking which dirt is best for tomatoes. This is an entire community of people who want nothing more than to plant gardens of all styles and outcomes – salsa, anyone? I get such a kick out of observing people trying to find their ways back to the old ways – but with newly engineered processes for recycling yard waste, and making it all new in their yards, their gardens.
The comic feature to these trips to the dump are captured in the conversations of the dirt rookies. I often wonder how many of them happened here by accident, or through the advice of neighbors or adult children who can’t believe their parents still think they can build their gardens with $4.99 bags of 2-cubic foot compost bags purchased at Home Depot. The whole experience for me is one of enlightenment, staying present in the moment, watching the birds overhead, and answering questions that anyone who can read a sign should be able to figure out.
I love the dump. I love it when I discover how far we have come in recycling not only our garbage, but the greens waste from the local vineyards and home remodeling. We live in amazing times. We have so much information at our disposal. And, we have so many disposables to reuse.
A half-yard of perfectly good compost purchased at the Meecham Road landfill costs about 20 bucks. The same amount of questionable compost purchased at Home Depot costs between 4 and 5 times as much. (My calculations may be off here because I’m always so interested in the conversations, that I pay little attention to the figures.) How do you want to spend your money to tend a garden? I want more for less. And, with nothing more than an afternoon in the truck with Dave, iPhone camera in hand, shovel in the truck bed, and $20, I can arrive home with enough dirt to plant wildflowers and rose bushes in my yard.
All I need is the sun, a short drive south, a shovel, and dirt. I am home. How is this not an adventure? It is. The monarch butterfly that visited our front yard last weekend is testament to how beautiful he is, hovering above our landfill compost. Both, equally contributing to my personal landscape. Dontcha think?