Live Long and Prosper

The cut worm forgives the plow…
~William Blake
Aren’t you glad at least that the earthworms 
Under the grass are ignorant, as they eat the earth, 
Of the good they confer on us, that their silence 
Isn’t a silent reproof for our bad manners, 
Our never casting earthward a crumb of thanks 
For their keeping the soil from packing so tight 
That no root, however determined, could pierce it? 
Imagine if they suspected how much we owe them, 
How the weight of our debt would crush us 
Even if they enjoyed keeping the grass alive, 
The garden flowers and vegetables, the clover, 
And wanted nothing that we could give them, 
Not even the merest nod of acknowledgment. 
A debt to angels would be easy in comparison, 
Bright, weightless creatures of cloud, who serve 
An even brighter and lighter master. 
~Carl Dennis  from “Worms”

We hope for a sunny spring day soon to lure us outside for yard and garden prep before the anticipated grass and weed explosion in a few short weeks. We’ve been carefully composting horse manure for over ten years behind the barn, and it is time to dig in to the 10 foot tall pile to spread it on our garden plot. As Dan pushes the tractor’s front loader into the pile, steam rises from its compost innards. As the rich soil is scooped, thousands of newly exposed red wiggler worms immediately dive for cover. Within seconds, thousands of naked little creatures  …worm their way back into the security of warm dirt, rudely interrupted from their routine. I can’t say I blame them.

Hundreds of thousands of wigglers end up being forced to adapt to new quarters, leaving the security of the manure mountain behind. As I smooth the topping of compost over the garden plot, the worms–gracious creatures that they are–tolerate being rolled and raked and lifted and turned over, waving their little bodies expectantly in the cool air before slipping back down into the dark. There they will begin their work of digesting and aerating the tired soil of the garden, reproducing in their unique hermaphroditic way, leaving voluminous castings behind to further feed the seedlings to be planted.

Worms are unjustly denigrated by humans primarily because we don’t like to be surprised by them. We don’t like to see one in our food, especially only part of one, and are particularly distressed to see them after we’ve digested our food. Once we get past that bit of squeamishness, we can greatly appreciate their role as the ultimate recyclers, leaving the earth a lot better off once they are finished with their work.

We humans actually suffer by comparison, so for man to be called “a worm” is really not as bad as it sounds at first although the worm may not think so.

I hope to prove a worthy innkeeper for these new tenants. May they live long and prosper. May worms be forgiving for the continual disruption of their routine.

May I smile in gratitude the next time someone calls me a worm.

 

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
~Psalm 22:6

 

 

As the Worm Turneth

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Giant_Palouse_earthworm
Photo by Yaniria Sanchez-de Leon–University of Idaho 2005

 

My mother told many stories about growing up on a wheat farm in the rolling fertile Palouse hills of eastern Washington state during the Great Depression years.  One was about the fabled Giant Palouse Earthworm, said to inhabit the deep soil of those lonely farms, and occasionally surfacing during cultivation with the horse drawn equipment.

This was no ordinary worm;  this cream colored invertebrate, first described by a zoologist in 1897, could grow up to 3 feet long.  It could move quickly through the loose topsoil, burrowing deep when threatened.  When it was turned up to the sunlight by the plowshare,  all work would cease in the marvel of  such a hidden creature.  This worm smelled like the essence of lilies but when handled, it defended itself through a release of fluid from its jawless mouth–the old farmers said it could “spit” a yard away.

I believed this was yet another of my mother’s “mythical” stories of life on the wheat farm and considered the “Giant Worm” a  fairy tale sharing shelf space with Pegasus,  dragons and centaurs, the stuff of Gary Larsen and “The Far Side”.

However, the Worm turneth “real”.  It actually does exist…we think.

The last time a scientist (University of Idaho) found a Giant Palouse Worm was in 2010.  There have only been a few sightings because the worm can move faster than a shovel, easily detecting the vibrations of humans disturbing the soil. So it has remained elusive, or more likely, adversely impacted due to intensive agricultural practices of the last century.  Environmental conservationists asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to institute protections for the Worm by declaring it an endangered species but it was denied such status.   Somehow the Federal Government is not eager to put resources into a Worm that prefers to stay 15 feet under. Perhaps the Worm shall one day have its day in court.

Actually this modern fable is only partially about saving a fantastical Worm that no one can find; it is also about ever-present environmental battling for preservation of land in its natural state versus development–even modern agricultural development in some of the most fertile soil in the world.  Scientists have put electric shock waves into the ground in an effort to drive the Worms to the surface so we have actual specimens to study and admire and then to call truly endangered.   If I was being shocked out of my comfy little dirt home, I think I’d dig deeper, rather than rise to the surface for poking, prodding,  and photo ops.   And I’d certainly feel like spitting.

I want to believe there must be a whole vital civilization of Giant Worms way down deep, dancing the night away in lily perfume and laughing at all the antics up under the sun.    Some day they’ll rise to make their grand appearance, and like a cross between protected prairie dog towns and a child’s bedroom ant farm, humans in all our wisdom and protective instincts might create Giant Palouse Worm colonies in the soil with underground viewing chambers.

Then we can stare at the underground cream colored marvels, and they can stare… and spit… back at us.

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A Good Worm

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Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A creeping, coloured caterpillar,
I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray,
I nibble it leaf by leaf away.

Down beneath grow dandelions,
Daisies, old-man’s-looking-glasses;
Rooks flap croaking across the lane.
I eat and swallow and eat again.

Here come raindrops helter-skelter;
I munch and nibble unregarding:
Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm.
I’ll mind my business: I’m a good worm.

When I’m old, tired, melancholy,
I’ll build a leaf-green mausoleum
Close by, here on this lovely spray,
And die and dream the ages away.

Some say worms win resurrection,
With white wings beating flitter-flutter,
But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care?
Either way I’ll miss my share.

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A hungry, hairy caterpillar,
I crawl on my high and swinging seat,
And eat, eat, eat—as one ought to eat.
~Robert Graves

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Under this loop of honeysuckle, A creeping, coloured caterpillar, I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray, I nibble it leaf by leaf away. Down beneath grow dandelions, Daisies, old-man’s-looking-glasses; Rooks flap croaking across the lane. I eat and swallow and eat again. Here come raindrops helter-skelter; I munch and nibble unregarding: Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm. I’ll mind my business: I’m a good worm. When I’m old, tired, melancholy, I’ll build a leaf-green mausoleum Close by, here on this lovely spray, And die and dream the ages away. Some say worms win resurrection, With white wings beating flitter-flutter, But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care? Either way I’ll miss my share. Under this loop of honeysuckle, A hungry, hairy caterpillar, I crawl on my high and swinging seat, And eat, eat, eat—as one ought to eat. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20235#sthash.TQPtnj5D.dpuf

This Deep in Fall

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A caterpillar,
this deep in fall—
   still not a butterfly.
~Matsuo Basho

I too,
homely bristled and crawling
thriving only on what is beneathmy feet and mouth, blindly
chewing my way
through the leaf’s edge.

Till I peer over the verge
of what will be,
of winged beauty
and freedom,
a worm graced by
transforming love
undeserved.

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Call for the Soil

plowing match photo by www.ninalintonphotography.com
Dundas, Prince Edward Island plowing match by http://www.ninalintonphotography.com

“When the April wind wakes the call for the soil,
I hold the plough as my only hold upon the earth,
and, as I follow through the fresh and fragrant furrow,
I am planted with every foot-step,
growing, budding, blooming into a spirit of spring.”
–  Dallas Lore Sharp, 1870-1929

To watch the soil turn over in the spring, whether by horse power with mane and tail or horse power with tires and engine, is to know my own inner soil needs turning upside down as well.  A grip on the handles of the plow connects the dirt and the soul.

The fresh earth ploughed, its face once hidden, surfaces, teeming with life.  There is the glisten of moist dirt, the wiggle of worms slithering quickly back into the depths, the roots of the old giving way to the nurture of new planting.

The spirit buds and blossoms once the soil is turned and smoothed into its new position, ready for seeds that will be fed from the heavens.  As the worm forgives the plow,  so we are forgiven for turning things upside down.  We must start over to bloom.  We are ready to get our hands and feet dirty in order to be fruitful.