The worm turns

By Michael Linnenbach,

By Michael Linnenbach

There are lots of important little things in life that it’s easy to overlook.

One of these is the worm.  Worms are amazing.  They keep the surface of the earth fresh, healthy and generally in good shape.  In doing so they help to create good growing conditions for the food we all rely on.  Through the actions of these wriggly little things, the soil is turned over, remixed and cleaned.

Worms, with their unattractive appearance and cold, slimy feel, have rather a bad press.  No one likes to find a worm on them or near them; there is, for most people, something inherently repulsive about them, to the point where there are even horror films based on giant, killer-worms.  Worms are also associated with decay – Romeo laments in the tomb to the supposedly dead Juliet that he will stay with her and the ‘worms that are thy chamber-maids’.  But the very presence of worms around death and decay should give us pause.

Without worms, the way that things that have died are subsumed back into the earth to create new life would be fundamentally different.  Worms mix up soil and decaying organic matter in their gut, and the stuff that comes out at the other end of them is clean, fresh soil.  Worms are even capable of cleaning soil contaminated with heavy metals; they eat it and some chemical in their gut binds and traps the poisonous substances.  What comes out of the worms is lower in contaminants and ready to support new plant growth.  To put it bluntly, we grow our food in worm-shit.  Without worms we probably wouldn’t be here.  Worms are heroes.

Incidentally, I once spent a summer living in a bender in a disused quarry a few miles up the coast from Land’s End in Cornwall, England.  One night, a particularly still night, I was sitting quietly, listening to the Atlantic Ocean when I heard a gentle, rhythmic scrunching noise, coming from somewhere inside the bender.  I tracked it down to a piece of slate on which the little wood-burner was mounted.  There was a massive, orange slug eating it, chomping away at the edge of it.  Crazy place.

So much for slugs, but next time you come across a worm when you’re in the garden, don’t shudder and throw it over the fence.  Lift up a clod of our beautiful, bountiful earth, our provider and the one who made us, and pop the little creature back under there to continue its life-giving work.

Sometimes it’s the ugliest, yuckiest and most worthless seeming things that are in fact the most valuable.

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha

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