Dickinson College Farm
the dirt '08

"The Blustery Day"

Deb Hicks '08

Disclaimer: I actually love composting.

One sunny winter afternoon, I was heading to the farm. As the full bed of the truck testified, I was on weekend compost duty. Despite the beautiful rays I could feel inside the cab, outside it was a chilly day, made downright freezing by the additional wind factor. The bosses, Jenn and Matt, were away for the day, so I was on my own. "No problem," I thought. "Last time I used the tractor [now 'necessary' in our composting process] was just the other day.".also the first time I'd ever run it.


So I arrived, got out of the cozy, compost-smelling cab, and opened the back latches, exposing the bed full of food waste. I backed the truck up a bit more, aligning the open bed with the bucket of the tractor, trying to make my work as easy as possible. Before beginning the process of unloading, I pulled myself onto the tractor, thankful that last-minute logic had convinced me to layer up with the works-from Under Armour and wool socks, to winter hat, scarf, and gloves. I grabbed the ear protection, which I tried adjust over my hat, all the while hoping I remembered how to not kill myself or the tractor. Ok. Key retrieved, clutch in, engine on, I'm good to go. I remove the ear-gear and jump back down, attempting unsuccessfully to avoid the two inches of pure, spa-quality mud that covered the face of the farm after the recent rains.

On the truck, I start unloading. The bins are so heavy I sometimes suspect management of throwing in an unproductive café worker, most probably a high-schooler. This consistently turns out not to be the case, as I realize the heaviest containers are inevitably full spaghetti-complete with sauce and, if you're lucky, meatballs too. The café must have recently served spaghetti. There's so much waste, I'll have to return with the tractor for another run-the bucket is full.

Between the unloading and the chasing after the bags and Wendy's cups and plastic ice-cream wrappers that, on that particularly windy day, wanted nothing to do with the compost, the tractor had more than enough time to heat up. I climbed back in control, this time buckling my seatbelt and securing my ear protection as if I were at the mercy of another. I certainly felt that way given the ferocious wind, which licked up the mud under the tires, threatening to throw it in my face. Instead my scarf and the tassels on my hat blew in my face, and my hands, frozen in gloves soaked with mysterious juices, were themselves too violated to do anything about it.

As I rounded the greenhouse with the tractor, I remembered what Jenn had told me-there were a bunch of birds gathering around the compost pile, attracted by the poorly covered scraps. "Be certain," she advised, "to cover the pile with enough leaves so to discourage the birds." Again, not a problem. It only took me three tries to scoop up a bucket-full of leaves on our practice run the previous weekend. Maybe the difficult maneuver-20 degree angle on the lip of the bucket, just above the ground, accelerate.lever Forward! Right! LeftAndBackAndStop! accelerating.-would naturally come to me in a moment of need. Maybe.

I soon found myself repeating this maneuver, luckily only three times, until I managed to collect a decent load of the dried matter. This was just enough time for me to realize that it wasn't yet time for the leaves; I had first to return once more to the truck. "If only I had remembered before!" I thought. What was done was done. I put the tractor in reverse. When the clutch was in for the change to forward, I looked up and to my left. A huge flock of seagulls, straight from Hitchcock's The Birds was swarming over the compost I had just dumped five minutes earlier. Thank goodness I wouldn't have to deal with them yet! I escaped in the tractor as fast as I could.but it wasn't fast enough. They must have seen me! All of the sudden all of the giant birds take flight, heading in my general direction. The tractor's open cab wouldn't be enough to protect me-I was completely vulnerable even with my seatbelt and ear protection. Just as the mass was nearly overhead, a powerful gust of wind came, and I was dabbled with white splotches! One fell in my eye and I immediately started to panic. I had a friend who inhaled pigeon droppings on a mission trip and was in and out of the hospital for the following months.

I could not longer feel or see any obstruction in my eye, but myself and the tractor were still speckled. What filthy birds! What a sick way to 'rain' on my parade! "I'll show them whose boss when I bury that compost so deep in leaves they'd might as well ask for food at the local drive-thru!-they'd have more luck than returning here !" Just as this thought was swelling in my head another gust of wind came, bringing with it more white particles. Wait. The birds at this point were downwind. One sec. So it wasn't them after all. "What is this strange substance?" I remember thinking as I touched the pure white on my navy blue sleeve. It was snow! Or something very close to it...It came in those two gusts and that was it.

I felt silly but relieved as I drove across the farm to finish the compost. Psychologically tainted by the experience, I couldn't help but think of Winnie the Pooh and his "Blustery Day," of which all I could remember was that a windy day led to a crazy nightmare. My brief 'nightmare' having ended, I was once again in the truck, this time headed back to campus. As the hefty Ethel May plowed her way back, I thought of my wind-proof apartment and the nice warm shower that awaited me. But I couldn't help but also think of the farm-another 'home' to me, not just because of the farm 'family' I've found there, but also thanks to it endless supply of crazy-fantastic adventures.