I compost, therefore I have worms.
Too many, actually.
I have grown intimate of earthworms over the past few years, in worrisome fashion that consumes way too much of my time. For one thing, my old, socially appropriate habit of ignoring them when I encounter them on pavement has given way to new manifestation of mental illness: a compulsive need to deposit them in my garden or compost pile.
It provides a strange satisfaction to see a worm, which had been dejectedly trying to burrow into pavement all night, nuzzle its way into moist ground. We think they are not sentient, but they know which way is up; they always right themselves when I lay them down wrong side up. And for true joy, deposit one dejected earthworm in soil, atop another.
So yes, on any given morning, I can be found collecting earthworms from the driveway. (How do they get there? Birds? Amtrak?) And then, dispatching them to the garden, a.k.a. Worm Disneyland. This affords me the soothing pleasure of benevolence, and is a get-into-heaven-free card if we’re wrong about this whole made-in-our-own-image thing and God turns out to be a giant worm.
I envy the inhabitants of Worm Disney, not just because they can eat up to a third of their body weight in a day, but because when it gets cold, they go to sleep and don’t wake up again until spring. This is every mother’s fantasy. I generally like having a spine, and wouldn’t give it up for a long winter’s nap, but there are some appealing aspects of being an invertebrate.
Like most creatures that hibernate, earthworms only go dormant when it turns cold. Their heart rate and body temperature drops, breathing slows, and metabolism ramps down to that of a post-menopausal woman. In running jargon, they’re middle-of-the-pack hibernators. Chipmunks are back-of-the-packers; like toddlers, they get up repeatedly for snacks and potty breaks.
The champion of hibernators, my idol and hero, is the Woolly Bear caterpillar.
This is the little furry guy you see courageously inching across the road every fall. He has two black segments and one that is cinnamon colored. He’s looking for a crevice in which to hide before the snow starts. (Or, for you lucky people in the South, let’s say, before temperatures plunge below 40.)
The Woolly Bear not only hibernates, but, for all practical purposes, dies. His heart doesn’t just slow; it stops beating. His blood freezes solid, then his whole body. In the spring, he will thaw and self-publish a book about his near-death experience. Later, he will spin a cocoon and emerge as a lovely, lemon-colored Isabella moth.
This is important to know, not only because humans need constant reminding that we’re not the only astonishing creatures on the planet, but in case in you come across a curled-up, motionless Woolly Bear in your yard, like I did while raking this past week.
If you do, HOLD NOT A FUNERAL!
Do not mourn him, toss him across the yard, or worse, stomp on the poor little guy. He’s just already gone zombie for the winter. Please just tuck him back into bed, preferably between rocks or under some inaccessible leaves. Let him sleep.
And parents, if your kids ever bring a Woolly Bear inside and say, please can we keep him, the answer is no, you may not. Or if you must, in winter, put him the freezer.
If God is a ladybug, I’m all set.