Living Deliberately

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


These two earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) jumped into my basement when I opened the door to the yard this morning. The common night crawler, a favorite for fishmen the world over, is a burrowing worm. It can dig up to eight feet down into the earth, where it lives in the day, digesting organic matter consumed on the surface the night before. At night, this anecic earthworm crawls to the surface and nibbles on the dead grass and leaf litter and whatever else it can find, converting cells and fiber into small particles of soil - you've seen the piles in your yard. night crawlers bring air and water to the subsurface through their worm holes, which are held open by a hardened mucus secreted by the worm when they burrow. Too much water, or an abundance, floods these busy creatures out of the depths and to the surface in daylight, to my back door, where they become disoriented and lost. Worm watchers tell me that worms, without eyes or a nose, without fingers or toes, can find their way back to their specific worm hole after any given night of leaf consumption. More rain than usual and all bets are off. Without worms, soils grow slower, if at all. Without soils, no agriculture. You can follow the logic from there. The worm is a muscle surrounding a digestive tract, mostly protein to the hungry robin. I released these individuals back into the yard. They both tried to twist away from my fingers when I reached for them on the steps. They did not realize that I was trying to help. They may not find their original homes, but they can build others, improving my soils and feeding the birds that live in my neighborhood.

In one of our many bastardizations of metaphor, a lowly, sneeky, back-biting individual is called a worm. I have heard this word used to describe our president. But worms deserve better respect than that. "They like to rape babies," a medicine man once said of the first family extended. "Everyone in Texas knows that." To this day, I do not know if the charge was meant literally or metaphorically, but I do know these worms would not cause the wreckage being caused by this Bush. I know that the political moment of Katrina and New Orleans has passed and no-bid contracts and no worker protection requirements and an opening of the field to profit-makers has taken place on the ground. Republicans are using the potential dialogue about race and poverty to further eviscerate government aid. Shameless. I know that a paper writing process in Iraq somehow trying to replicate our own 18th-century state-making moment (presided over by slaveholders, remember), a process that forgets how steeped in the naive idealism of Enlightenment-era political science the proceedings in Philapdelphia were, has descended into a laughable political process and a bloody tragedy in the streets. Our imperialism has replaced tyranny with tyranny, causing continued killings and heinous deaths where too much killing and death have become part and parcel, like a trip to the market for most of us. Shameful. Perhaps, when looked at from the right angle, 'worm' could work. He has burrowed deep into the subsoils of our most cherished vows and convinctions and lined his hole with mucus, one big muscle surrounding a digestive tract, no sight, smell, and only simple spontaneous reactions to external stimlulation. If only robins came large enough.


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