Life lessons learned from an earthworm
On my hands and knees, I slogged forward.
The steady rain had already soaked through my clothes and turned the ground underneath me into a slick film of runny mud. My back hurt, my fingers were caked with brown goop and my mouth was aching from clamping over a small flashlight as I slowly scanned the backyard.Finally, I found one. It lay out along the ground, moving slowly and basking in the rain as if it enjoyed the wet weather as much as I was annoyed by it. And then I saw another. And another.
I spotted the largest of the group and quickly moved my pointer finger and thumb in for the snatch. But the worm saw my shadow and retreated with unexpected agility, slithering into its hole faster than a small child can slurp up a sauce-coated spaghetti noodle.
It seemed to make the same sound, too.
And of course, every visible worm for what seemed like a 10-mile radius disappeared just as quickly.
How was something so easy in concept so hard to execute?
With the price of pre-caught worms at the convenience store nearing the gold standard, I had caught hundreds of worms as a kid as the family would prepare a fishing trip. Little garden worms, big nightcrawlers and everything in between.
The trick, of course, is to wait until a rainy night when the worm holes are filling with water and the little fish magnets come to the surface to survive.
Which is why I was nearly army-crawling my way past the swing set in my backyard, drenched and cold and coated in mud while the kids were tucked warmly into their beds with visions of brookies, brownies and rainbows dancing in their heads.
The early bird may catch the worm — I was starting to wonder if I’d catch pneumonia.
As time passed, I finally found my worm-catching groove. One by one, I’d snatch up a worm before it could flee and placed it in my Styrofoam bucket.
And to help pass the time and keep my mind off everything yucky and mucky during this adventure, I started to really think about the worms — those extremely simple creatures that seemed to have such a complex way of getting away when you’d least expect it.
I started to realize that these earthworms were really an object lesson in some very important life situations. For example:
Find your anchor, and don’t wander. It didn’t take long to remember that wet, sticky night that the easiest worms to catch are those that are far away from their holes. The critters that survive the longest are those that have their tail anchored into the safety valve of their hole, being able to quickly slip down into the ground as needed.
This isn’t suggesting we should all become homebound and avoid the outside world, but instead to search and latch onto a higher purpose. Whether it is striving to be the best we can at what we do or, in a deeper sense, to find the security of something more divine. The more we anchor ourselves in the safety of faith, the better our chances of surviving the rough patches — and bumbling outdoor writers — in life.
There is safety in numbers. Worms, surprisingly enough, are social creatures. I’m not sure what they talk about at the dirt parlor or when hanging around a root or two, but they do rely on each other when danger is near. If one senses something is wrong, it isn’t long until they’re all scrambling for the safety of their holes.
People, not so surprisingly, are also social creatures. Just check your nearest Facebook page if you don’t agree. However, what kind of people are we surrounding ourselves with? Are they going to be there for us when things get dicey? Will we be there for others when they need us?
When life throws you a few breaks, be ready to bounce back. As many may know, earthworms have this interesting way of regenerating if ripped or broken. Birds, or clumsy writers, have a tendency to tear a few worms when trying to coax them out of the ground.
We all will be broken a time or two in life — whether it is losing a loved one or suffering through a tough financial stretch. I had a ribbon hanging in my room as a kid that stated: “Life isn’t about the times you stumble, but how gracefully you can get back up and continue on.”
Again, that process is easier if you find your anchor in life and surround yourself with the truest of friends and family.
The harder the work, the bigger the payoff. This point is less about the worms and more about the experience. After surviving the near-tropical storm in my rural Middleburg backyard and worrying the amount of grime I tracked into the house, I felt as though I was back in high school after a really tough, rainy football game.
But, the next morning was utterly gorgeous. The birds were singing, the sun was shining and I was happily fishing with my kids. Those worms helped land us a few nice trout — and the money we saved from my mud-capade was well-invested in a few ice cream cones on the way home.