It rained a few nights ago, and when I took my early morning walk I saw that there were hundreds, probably thousands, of worms looking as if they were either dead or gasping their last breaths, spread out like litter all over our dirt road. While I thought that the rain had flooded the worms' passageways to and from their homes just underneath the surface of the road causing them to flee or be killed, scientists theorize that this is not true. Worms surface for migration purposes; it is easier for them to move when things are wet. Also they do not drown as humans would; they can stay submerged for days without any negative consequences. Yet another theory is that in hearing rain, worms flee because rain sounds like mole vibrations, and moles love to eat worms, which the worms know. Whatever their reason for leaving their comfy warm homes, there were all those worms, lying on the road, drying out, passively waiting to be run over by speeding cars or farm vehicles, although of course they didn't understand or anticipate that final outcome. They just lay there. I respected their decision and stepped over and around them as I continued my walk.
When my older daughter was a toddler she would rescue worms. This was a morning's undertaking; we'd walk to a nearby pond to study the wildlife there, and on some mornings, always after rain, there would be worms up on the banks of the pond, flushed out by the rising water. She would find a stick sturdy enough to lift a wiggling worm, or an already dead worm, and very carefully slip it underneath its little body and carry it, on the stick, over to some grassy area. This could take hours, depending on how many distraught (or not) worms she could see. I would help her in this endeavor, either holding her little hand steady so the worms wouldn't fall off, or upon her insistence, finding my own stick and rescuing more worms, working alongside her. We always felt very good after our righteous morning's work even if it didn't help any of the worms survive. (Perhaps it helped them migrate or escape a mole.) But that didn't enter our thoughts; it was the intent that mattered.
I always felt it was important for my children to connect with nature, to be observant of what was happening and the beauty around them. Before my son was even two years old it would take us at least an hour to walk around one relatively short suburban city block. Being so close to the earth because of his diminutive size at that age, he would see such treasures, find such absorbing, interesting objects to touch, prod or poke at, and frequently carry home in his pockets. A pretty stone, a caterpillar, a leaf, even an ant busy at work, all would focus his attention for much longer than I thought such a little one could maintain. As a baby my youngest daughter loved to watch the trees, the sunlight playing through and creating moving leaf shadows; this could keep her entertained at least long enough for the rest of us to set up camp or eat dinner. She was perhaps more active than her older brother and sister, but could stop dead in her tracks whenever she spied movement in the grass, a snake, a turtle, a frog, a spider, and watch their actions unfold. For all of them, from earliest babyhood on, I'd hold them up to touch the trees, to feel the rough bark; we might have been the original tree huggers.
But is it possible to aid nature? This morning I saw a fresh kill, a mother porcupine recently run over by a speeding car or truck. Not too many people live around here, so careless and idiot drivers can step on the gas and hurtle over the small hills, speeding over a mile until they reach the next stop sign (maybe not even stopping there), heedless of what (or who) might be in the road. This time, maybe even unknown to the driver, a mother porcupine was crossing the road and that was it for her. I stopped to see if there was breathing, any life left, but her little skull was crushed; her drying blood had already spread out around her head. And I saw her slender nipples extended, so I knew she was a nursing mom. How does one go about trying to find porcupine babies who do not want to be found, who are hiding and waiting for their mother to return? Could they even be rescued? And if I could find them how could they be fed, being so prickly? How does one calm a scared little porcupine? I fervently hoped they were old enough to fend for themselves, now that their mother was dead. Even sixty feet away from her body I still saw her quills, so the vehicle that killed her must have been going far beyond any kind of reasonably "fun" speed, slamming her body up into the air and having it fall to earth so very far away from where she was hit. I like to drive fast too, but this killing was cruel and unnecessary. Most likely multiple lives were lost with the killing of this one mother porcupine.
I love to walk, looking all around me at the surrounding beauty, or, in some places, at least at all the interesting things I pass by. But Bill, my husband, mostly stares at the ground, living within his own head, thinking only his own thoughts. I think how limiting that is, and frequently I'll call him, startling him out of his reverie, and he'll say, "What? What?" and I'll tell him he's missing the world. He'll look around for awhile, but I guess what he sees doesn't capture his attention the way seeing everything captures mine. There is so much around us, so much to observe, to learn, to try to understand; so many lives are happening all around us whether we live in the woods or in a big city. It doesn't matter; it's all right there. The plants, flowers, trees, rocks, buildings all tell their stories if only we pay attention; so does a dead porcupine, or a devastation of worms. We are surrounded by and a part of this huge world, such a gift that we can open each day if we choose to, if only we take the time to look, to really look. We might not always like what we see, but there's a story there too.
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