Dirt, humus, compost, it’s all about the same here in the Keys and it’s the gardener’s best friend. With this in mind, I’ve been surreptitiously watching a mulch pile slowly decay for the last few months at a local park, jealously wondering when the maintenance staff was going spread it around. This stuff would make GREAT dirt. I noticed a staff member lounging on his slick little golf cart and decided to broach the matter. Grabbing a cold Coke out of my cooler I coolly strolled up to the cart.
“Hey man, you guys want that mulch…or can I take it off your hands?” I innocently asked holding the soda out to the relaxed man with ’Frank’ stenciled above the pocket of his clean khaki shirt.
‘Frank’ took the icy drink, looked sideways at the pile, gave me a crooked grin and said, ”My name’s Steve. Go for it"
I didn’t ask.
“Sweet, this ‘ll only take a couple minutes”, I gleefully thought while backing up my nifty Mazda pickup truck to the pile. Next, I pulled out my trusty pitchfork, that tends to live in my truck bed, thrust firmly into the pile, pulled upwards and nothing happened…
As it turned out, this pile was strategically placed under an spreading Woman’s Tongue Tree, Albizia lebbeck (so named for the loud rattle made by the dried seed pods in a brisk breeze, sorry ladies) , an extremely fast growing tree, thus the mulch pile was packed solid with long white tendrils of roots. An hour later, after struggling to bust up these recalcitrant roots, cracking my ancient pitchfork handle and repeatedly giving the hairy eyeball to the snickering park maintenance dude, the pile was finally overflowing my pickup truck bed.
I cruised back down the Overseas Highway, homeward bound on sagging truck springs, leaving a wispy, confetti-like trail of rotting mulch fragments blowing gaily about behind me and...directly into a convertible Mustang filled with fist shaking tourists. Sorry about that, folks, oh well, life is a breeze in the Florida Keys.
After whipping into my driveway I backed the truck up to my wonder machine. Did I ever tell ya about my chipper/ shredder. I love that machine. It is a Mackissic 12p with a 10 horsepower electric start engine, powering 24 swinging hammers of fury and packing a 3 in chipping capacity that inhales branches…if you properly maintain it, which I do…sporadically...but unfortunately not lately. Following multiple, lengthy starting attempts the engine caught and the spinning hammers of death began to whirl. Ok…safety sun glasses, check…ear protectors, check…it’s time to make dirt. I love this part.
Preparing to unload, I grasped the handle of my truck tailgate, pulled mightily and suddenly I was looking at the broken off handle in my hand…now tell me, who makes tailgate handles out of plastic, Mazda, that’s who, sheesh.
AfterI wrapped my pitchfork handle in some ever so stylish duct tape, hoping it would hold together the now splintering linear crack, I climbed up into the mulch-filled truck bed and began heaving forkfuls of decaying chips and roots into the yawning shredder maw. Instant compost poured from bottom of the infernal machine making my heart leap with joy.
My already leaping heart slammed to a halt when I felt something crawling up my thigh and I looked down at my leg half buried in rotting mulch.To my horror I noticed a reddish centipede of truly Herculean proportions making his way upward toward the comforting, dark, fabric shrouded recess of the leg of my shorts.
At a time like this there are only two options, be ever so cool, make like the statue of David and freeze marble still or the second option, the one I took, which is to spring into action. Screaming a banshee war wail (mine sounded more like a spoiled toddler who just dropped his ice cream cone in a mud puddle) I hurled the pitchfork from my hands, began frantically swatting at my leg and commenced to do a full minute of a furious, leg-kicking, shoe flying, chicken dance the likes of which may not again be seen by mankind.
I never saw where the killer centipede went, other than not in my pants leg, due to the fact that my ear muff hearing protectors spun sideways around on my head, managing to cover my eyes. That is of course, after dislodging my Oakley shades…which unerringly flew into the shredder hopper and were instantly vaporized by the hammers of doom.
I do know where the pitchfork ended up. You’ll be pleased to know the ever-so stylish duct tape was completely intact when I grasped the handle and pulled the pitch fork tines from the spider-webbed remains of the now ventilated back window of my formerly nifty truck…sigh.
Ahhh… for the love of dirt.