When I was 23 and living in New York City, I had a new boyfriend who loved upstate New York, the well-preserved old towns where nothing of significance had happened in the last hundred years, the poverty, the natural beauty.
We would head out of the city in his car, an ancient and beat-up Chrysler convertible, while he desultorily shopped for a old house for himself in the various counties north of Westchester. He knew a lot about architecture and he soon taught me enough that I could read a landscape in an entirely different way. I no longer saw a collection of houses, I saw history. Funny how a little bit of knowledge can transform the way you see the world around you.
Something similar happened to me in my garden half a dozen years ago. I stopped tilling my vegetable garden and started mulching it heavily with ground up maple leaves and lawn clippings. And the transformation of my soil into devil's food cake with an icing of worm castings was so dramatic that I became curious about the biology of the soil and learned something about that, as well as a little about the nitrogen cycle and the carbon cycle. Not enough to be really authoritative on these subjects, but enough to view the entire world differently.
Now, I never look at a photo of a landscape parched by drought without seeing a dire lack of carbon covering the bare earth, either in the form of living plants or a dead mulch.
Now, I can't look at a pile of brush or fall leaves without seeing the key to life there, fodder for earthworms, and fungi, and soil bacteria, who will convert it into fertlizer for my crops.
I don't understand why anybody would send such a lovely bunch of carbon–or a lovely pile of nitrogen in the form of grass clippings–off his or her property. Yes, my city composts this stuff. But no, I'm not generous enough to share. I want it all in MY garden.
And if my neighbors are willing to rake these riches out of their flowerbeds and off the lawn and set them at the curb in brown bags–well, I'm willing to be the town eccentric, wheeling her barrow down the street in order to collect it all.
I may look like a crazy person, but that's only to those people whose eyes are not yet open.