Ekostories’ excellent post on Gary Larson a couple of weeks ago (There’s a Hair in my Dirt, May 26) inspired me to write about my love for earthworms.
In those faraway days when I was working in the garden instead of on a manuscript, I encountered earthworms on a daily basis. My fascination with them began when I started to read about organic gardening and discovered the wonders of these diggers of the deep.
Earthworms are nature’s primary way of tilling the soil. A garden rich in earthworms will have lovely, richly textured dirt from the worms’ gentle activity and fertile excrement, but the worms are picky. While they can easily be found if you dig deep enough beneath the grass or an undisturbed patch of ground, garden beds are not always a hospitable environment. Sun, wind, and rain are all dangers to worms if they’re directly exposed, so a bare dirt bed without any sheltering leaves or mulch isn’t a place where they’re going to settle in and make a home.
The best way to attract these little workers into your garden is to compost and mulch. The worms make their way into the compost heap, moving upwards from the soil below (I assume), and come into the garden along with the compost. Layering a blanket of leaves or mulch on top of the bed will give them protection and allow them to flourish. You’ll have wonderful soil and your plants will enjoy the added nutrients a rich soil brings.
But my reaction to earthworms is not merely utilitarian; it is emotional. I love the squirmy little critters. They’re touchingly vulnerable, especially when it rains. Many a time after a big rain, I’ve picked up a worm from the sidewalk and placed it back on the grass, under a leaf if possible. And many a time, I’ve passed dried-out worms that were caught in a cloudburst and then scorched on the pavement by the sun. Or worms that someone has trod on with careless feet.
I know, I know, there’s more than a whiff of sentimentality in this, too uncomfortably close to the blithely unaware Harriet satirized in Gary Larson’s book, but I’m not ashamed of my feelings. Like so much of the natural world, earthworms are both vital and vulnerable, and that vulnerability arouses my maternal instincts. I want them to flourish. I want to protect them.
Part of it, too, is a childish delight in creatures often dismissed with a “yuck!” But unlike spiders, snakes, and other “creepy crawlers,” worms don’t bite. They don’t sting. They’re safe to handle. Perfect for my combination of wimpiness and love for playing in the dirt.
What’s your favorite non-cute-n-cuddly critter? I’d like to know!