They stock the rivers and lakes around here with trout, mostly browns and rainbows, and Ed always needs worms. He's retired and he's thrifty. If I leave a bottle with a nickel deposit in my recycling bin on a Sunday night—which I rarely do—Ed is bound to come around Monday afternoon and tell me about the old woman who makes her rounds early in the morning and picks through the bins. When trout season comes around, my compost pile becomes doubly valuable: it becomes compost for my garden and a source of valuable goods for Ed. He's an avid trout fisherman. We have a perfect working relationship: I need his pitchfork and he needs all the worms he can get. I collected about ten worms for him today and put them into a little sour cream tub. The worms are in my fridge now.
If I could have things my way, the world would be on a barter system. It would be more neighborly. We wouldn't need the rigidity of pay and salaries. It would be a kind of odd job economy in which everyone mostly does what they love to do and somehow makes it. Obviously, this is very idealistic thinking. There are so many people in this world. Somebody has to manufacture all the shoes. Somebody has to mill all the corn. I don't think anybody needs to turn corn in high fructose corn syrup, but there are lots of people who would disagree. We have a corn syrup industry, and if someone suddenly yanked corn syrup out of the economy like a table cloth from beneath a vase of flowers, a lot of people would be out of work, their homes in jeopardy, their children hungry and in rags. I find it somewhat sad that innocent lives become implicated in counter-productive or even destructive industries, but I don't have much of a solution either. I can't switch the world over to neighborliness and bartering, but I can barter with my neighbors and have a mini economy on my block. Michael Pollan asked, Why Bother? Pleasure is one reason to bother. It's nice to chat with Ed about squirrels and raspberry canes. I could go out and buy my own pitchfork—I'm not totally broke—but why encourage the world to produce one more pitchfork when there is a perfectly good one in Ed's shed?
Compost piles have tiers of heat and wetness. The most thoroughly rotten stuff will be toward the bottom of the pile. When I was fishing around for the worms, I noticed that most of them were not at the very bottom of the pile. The were slightly higher up where it was warmer. Worms are cold blooded creatures and the cold makes them sluggish. The people in New England are just like worms. We don't see our neighbors much between mid December and mid March. Then spring comes. I didn't talk to Ed more than four times all winter, but now that the weather has turned we are chatting on the lawn a couple times a day. The benefits of trade come up like the daffodils in spring. If I get some trout from Ed, I will post them here.