30 May 2011

Post 387: The Earth Moved

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart. ISBN: 9781565123373.

I never thought I would find earthworm sex fascinating. I'm sure I've seen earthworms copulating on an especially rainy day, most likely as a child, when I actually had the time and inclination to go stand out in the rain and just look at things. And it occurred to me during my reading that it had been ages since I had actually just looked at an earthworm and longer since I had held one. What can I say, Amy Stewart made it sound compelling.

My mother's yard has pretty crappy soil. I doubt I would have found any worms if I had chosen a random spot to dig in, but as it was I went straight for the compost pile. Even then, most of the dirt was more a mixture of dirt and clay, not the kind of rich topsoil you really want. Despite the soil, my mother has managed to grow more than a few vegetables this year already, and she does have a worm population in the compost pile.

It's been a bit dry here recently, and my mother has only been in this house for two or three years, so she is still working on the soil. One of the things I found out you can do is to "plant" worms more or less like you would anything else you find desirable in a garden. Part of my desire to dig through the compost pile was to transplant some of the worms. The other part just wanted to play with some dirt.

So yes, I went to the compost pile, which is open aired and mostly consists of garbage at this point having just been installed recently. I found a spade and scooped through the upper layer to get to the soil. There were a few earthworms in amongst the dead leaves and coffee grounds, but I soon scraped the fairly tough, gritty soil. The holes I dug in the middle of the pile were definitely more active, but the ones on the end showed signs of new worms, which is excellent. The fact that they're breeding is a good sign and I even saw a cocoon or two.

I have always loved worms. As a child I often spent time looking at the ground. It was what I was closest to, after all, for those years before I got my first real growth spurt. I was fond of rocks as well, and always looking for a new one to add to my collection. I wasn't afraid to touch things, and picking up an earthworm only seemed natural. It wasn't until I read this book though that I realized that last time I had touched an earthworm was in 10th grade biology class during a dissection. It was close enough to Valentine's day that my lab partner (and close friend) remarked that they would make an excellent gift since they had five hearts.

But as fascinating as cutting up a worm is, there is nothing quite like holding it in your hand and actually observing it. We forget to look at the small things and though an earthworm is small, it is somehow much bigger than its size. Here is a creature that has no eyes and no ears, but has managed to spread itself across the globe. They are everywhere, yet we rarely think about them, and we know so little about the different species, even in our own backyard. Most of us are familiar with the red wriggler, but there are small white worms that live and work at the roots of trees and woody plants and others that have more specific tasks. The worm is an animal that is delicate, requiring specific temperatures and soil balance, and while its skin is easy to harm, it is still a tough creature. It is tougher than dirt.

The thing I like most about watching the earthworm? Its heartbeat. Few animals are as transparent and open, but with an earthworm you can see as the blood circulates through the ventral vessels, a tiny red squiggly line appearing and disappearing with each beat and running from the head of the worm to its tail. There is something about that exposure, the transparency, that makes them seem more alive than the rest of us, as if our very skin requires that we hide who we are, and deadens and disconnects us from life. Hide. The word itself is telling in its double meaning.

I found this review from another Goodreader very charming. From the blogging world, I enjoyed the stay at home bookworm's review.
LibsNote: Library Copy.


  1. I read quite a bit about agriculture and the earth but this is an area I've left unexplored. I love how this book made you want to go out and reconnect with a part of nature most adults find gross.

  2. Ash,
    When I went out to go dig up the worms I actually realized I was a bit nervous about picking one up and touching the dirt. It's sort of funny because when I was a kid I was the first one to touch just about everything. It made me realize exactly how long it had been since I'd spent any time near something "dirty."


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