Humble Hero


It’s obvious that my attention and my lens are focused on the garden these days. I find myself spending a little time every afternoon weeding, digging, planting, and photographing whatever is in bloom. When I first start out, the tasks can seem overwhelming. If I put lofty goals aside, though, and just tackle something specific (a square foot of English ivy that needs to be pulled out from under the peonies), I’ll suddenly realize two hours have passed and it’s time to start dinner. Planting is my favorite of all my garden pastimes—not only does it allow me to dig holes for new flowers (with lots of hope for the future), but it lets me get reacquainted with my very favorite garden creature, the so-called lowly earthworm. I’ve been fascinated with worms since I was a child, and as a gardener I have great respect for these builders of the soil. Their burrowing habits help aerate the soil and disperse nutrients. They eat whatever live or dead organic matter comes into their path and convert it into rich hummus (which is the reason they are essential in my compost bin). If I dig and find a cache of earthworms, I can be sure I’m putting my plant in just the right fertile place. I remove them carefully, admiring their subtle colors and sensing their slippery movements in my palm, and then I place them in another spot that needs some worm work. As I hold them, I always make a wish. Why shouldn’t a creature as connected to the earth as the earthworm—an active creator of my garden soil—have the power to grant it? Like one of my favorite authors, Eva Ibbotson, I ascribe surprising qualities to the humble earthworm. In one of her children’s fantasies, Which Witch?, a pet earthworm named Rover proves to have astonishing abilities. Although what could be more astonishing than transforming hard clay into crumbly, productive soil?