Every morning when I go walking, I see them: the mummified remains of hundreds of earthworms littering the sidewalks and roadways of my route. Many of the carcasses are straight as if the worms were extending themselves as far as they could to reach safety, only to fail in the end. But, most are curled into a fetal position in their last ditch efforts to save themselves from “dawn’s early light.” I don’t know why they wait so late to start their final adventures, but inevitably, most of them get caught by the sun’s unforgiveable rays.
Death by sun exposure would have to be a bad way to die. First, with the sun beating down on their liquid-filled bodies, the earthworms begin to slow even more than their usual “snail’s pace.” Then the sun starts to heat the asphalt and concrete, which results in blistering on this side, too. They just don’t stand a chance. If the sun doesn’t finish the job, the ants usually do. Either way, this is a painful, slow, and terrible way to go.
The odds are always against earthworms anyhow. Those lucky enough to make it home before the sun can torture them to death are often eaten by birds, and some even become fodder for the fishes. Still, these previous two ways seem less painful, and somehow more humane (after all, they are helping with the life cycle), than the sun simply evaporating their insides and leaving only a crunchy outside for me to bemoan.
Thus, I have decided to save the earthworms. I don’t necessarily enjoy touching them; without legs, they remind me of snakes, which I abhor, but my compassion always wins out, so I am compelled to act on their behalves.
Mostly, I don’t find them in time to do any good, but every once in a while, I do. Take this morning for example. On my way down Northgate to do my Glendale/Country Club loop, I saw him (yes, they’re asexual, but I feel strongly that my earthworm was a male because he was plodding along aimlessly to his destination). He had almost reached the pavement’s edge, but how he intended to scale the curb and get into the grass was a mystery to me.
So, I decided to intervene. I bent down to pick up my earthworm, but he thrashed wildly until he finally exhausted himself; he simply gave up. Gently, I lifted him off the road and put him on the grass that was still wet with the morning dew. Unfortunately, my earthworm’s new location didn’t motivate him at all, and he remained still. To begin with, I wondered if in attempting to move him, I had given him a heart attack and only hastened what the sun had already started.
Even though he was on the grass now, I feared my earthworm would be dead in the 20 minutes it would take me to make my loop and return to check on him. So, I began tearing up wet grass and placing it on top of him. This action would at least give him some additional moisture and some protection from the sun. Feeling I had done all I could do, and praying that the homeowners whose grass I was tearing up hadn’t seen me, I left him. I’d done my part, but now it was up to him to do the rest.
When I came back through, I checked on my earthworm. Thankfully, he had started burrowing into the earth, but more of him was out than in. I tore up some more grass, keeping an eye on the curtains in the process, placed it on top of him, and wished him luck. Hopefully, my efforts were not in vain and the little guy had enough time and strength to get back into the ground.
Now, most of you are probably wondering, so? What’s the big deal about saving an earthworm? If he lives, he’ll probably die tomorrow anyhow. Well, yes, that’s true. He may not have made it through today, and if he does, he may not make it through tomorrow, but then, neither may any of the rest of us, and sometimes we just need a little help along the way to get through to fight again the next day. Today, I was that earthworm’s salvation, or at least, I hope I was, but it’s about more than that really. It’s about compassion, for all God’s creatures both big and small, both cuddly and slimy, and both important and insignificant. Today I helped an earthworm, but tomorrow, who knows what creature may need my assistance; perhaps, that creature may even be human. I just hope I’m there to lend a helping hand if it is needed.