Toting Twigs and Wayward Worms

One of the gifts that these strange times have given us is longer walks in the mornings. When we were first asked to stay home during the beginning of this pandemic, Miss Sophie, whose routine was thrown way off because *we*never*left*, convinced me to take her on longer walks in the mornings. Or maybe it was the other way around. Instead of our quick, hurry up, I thought you had to go ritual, we had leisurely meanderings through our neighborhood, waving from a distance at neighbors we hadn’t seen in a while and some we’d never met. The mornings in March and April and even the beginning of May were unseasonably temperate, and it was lovely.

With spring upon us and yards being watered again, the tragedy that has broken my heart each spring and summer began once again. Earthworms, who had either floated without choice or, tempted by the early morning coolness, crawled from grass to sidewalk, were left stranded on the concrete walkways as the days grew hotter. Some were able to make it back to the safety of the grass, but so many were not.

I carry a stick when we walk. Not a big one. A twig really. It’s not meant to scare anyone or anything (supposedly a gator comes around occasionally or so I’ve heard). It’s my worm lifting tool.

Yep. That’s a real thing.

I don’t know how I got started or when the first worm called out to me for help. Before I started carrying my twig, I’d search frantically for a leaf or stick or strong blade of grass to gently slide underneath the sweltering, wiggling worm and lift him quickly to the safety of the dark, damp earth. I don’t know how many make it okay after or even the lifespan of a worm. I just know I can’t pass by one who has any wiggle left in him. He has to be moved to safety. (But no, for some reason, I haven’t brought myself to use my bare hands–I keep telling myself it’s gentler not to, but I’m pretty sure that’s what rationalizing looks like. 😉 )

It’s been a few years maybe that I’ve been doing this. I don’t think anything about it anymore. Neither does Sophie. As I go about my business, she takes a minute to ponder life or what smells were left where. So far no one has ever stopped me to say, “Hey! Whatcha doing all bent over and contorted like that?” or “Hey! Stop flinging earthworms in my yard, you crazy person!” All of which I am glad for.

It’s become such a natural thing for me on our walks that when the pandemic hit and Cooter decided to join me and Miss Sophie in the mornings, I didn’t think about him wondering what on earth his Mama was doing all stooped and bent over and talking to an earthworm like that–or why I was carrying a twig with me.

When curiosity got the better of him and he did ask, I explained sheepishly. I braced myself for my new teenager to have something sarcastic to say or some great knowledge to impart to me that would imply that maybe my efforts were all in vain. Let’s face it, I thought he’d tease me unmercifully. He loves me and respects me, but I could see it happening.

I did not expect him to go looking for his own twig and ask to “rescue” the next one.

But that’s what he did.

Side by side I walked with this man child who (don’t tell him I admitted to it) is now slightly taller than I am. He gained inches during this quarantine, and I’m now the shortest person in this family. Bless.

As we talked about everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) under the sun, we kept our eyes open for any wigglers. There were many who were already lost, sadly, but when we saw one still going, we’d excitedly and with gentle scolding (“look here buddy, go THAT way, no quit jumping, I’m TRYING TO HELP YOU, SIR) help another misguided bloke to safety. The joy was palpable, though we never tarried long after we got another one across. Miss Sophie’s patience has limits, my friends.

When I think of this quarantine, those lovely morning walks with dazzling blue skies, puffy white clouds, gentle breezes, and the perfect air temperature will be among my treasured memories. Walking with my favorite “little” fella and my precious pup, toting twigs and rescuing wayward worms–priceless.

I’ve thought a little more about those spring walks, since we don’t go quite as long or as far in the sauna that the outdoors here in Georgia has become. When he first joined me back in March, I didn’t set out to show my baby boy “how to keep worms from frying on the hot pavement.” He saw me carrying my twig and watched what I did with it. Then he found his own and copied me.

And I know that doesn’t just happen with sticks and worms. It happens with stock and words. What I take stock in, how I use my words to harm or heal…..he’s watching. Listening. Those hands that used to reach for mine– first to help him stand, then to step, and then to comfort–are growing and changing as much as his voice which is so much deeper with now only a few cracks or squeaks. Those hands, his voice–he can choose how they affect this world. He’s taking in what happens around him and choosing what he wants to be a part of, what he wants to change, encourage, develop, empower, study, share, love.

I’m thankful for a life where my baby boy carries a twig around our neighborhood and no one asks why. I’m thankful for a life where he carries a small stick for the survival of earthworms and not a bigger one for his own. The disparity in that is not lost on me. We are so fortunate that it moves me to tears.

Most of all, I’m thankful for parents who taught me to leave things better than I found them. To be a good steward of all around me. To know the little ones are watching and learning, whether we realize we are teaching or not. And that no creature is too small to care for and about. I’ve been one of those earthworms, finding myself somewhere on my journey that it turns out isn’t the best of places. I’m thankful for those who came along and nudged me back on the path, back where I could continue growing and living out my best story.

Wishing you all a walking buddy who wants to share all his thoughts and dreams and ideas with you along the way, a pup who is always glad to see you when you do actually finally leave the house, and someone to come along with a twig to lift you up and return you to safety when you find yourself lost and alone. Love to all.

I’m never quite sure what makes them leave their grassy homes.
My trusty twig and a backup piece of bark. It’s serious business, this, and one must always be prepared with backups.