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. ūüėČ )

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.

The Ways of the Earthworm

This morning before the rest of the house was stirring, the pup and I headed out to the front yard to contemplate and do what doggies do in the morning dew.  The yellow of the sun and the blue of the sky seemed a more brilliant color today, promising us a day of beauty and perhaps a cool breeze or two thrown in there.

Meet Emilio, the new friend the sweet pup and I made this morning.  I want to find his rhythm and grace in my own life.

Meet Emilio, the new friend the sweet pup and I made this morning. I want to find his rhythm and grace in my own life.

As we were headed back in, I saw this guy making his way¬†down the walkway.¬† I had already seen some of his kin whose demise had come all too quickly back on the pavement several feet away.¬† This one still had some get up and go.¬† As I watched his movements, it amazed me.¬† His head would stretch out and move forward ever so slightly, and then he’d wait for the rest of his body to catch up.¬† Again, stretch that head and wait.¬† It was painstakingly slow¬†to me, who must have seemed like a skyscraper had he looked up.¬† Or, you know,¬†had eyes.

As I watched him it hit me that I could learn a thing or two from Emilio the Earthworm.¬† He takes his time.¬† (I wonder what¬†an earthworm in a rush would look like anyway.)¬† He leads with his head.¬† Then he waits for the rest of himself to catch up.¬† Wonder what he thinks about as that long body wiggles in and prepares to follow the head again?¬† He has a lot of time for cogitating, I’m thinking.

I tend to get ahead of myself a lot.¬† And then not wait for the rest of me to catch up, just plunge right in on the next thing.¬† And the next and the next, until I’m running in circles and find myself putting two entrees¬†in the oven for the littles’ lunch (they did not complain on that) or I leave my wallet at home twice in three days (they did on this–Cooter was hoping for Chick-Fil-A that night–not without my wallet, buddy.)¬† And so it is.

My new author friend, Ann Hite, taught a Writer’s Workshop on Monday.¬† She talked about the exercise of walking slow–how important it is to slow down.¬† To listen, to think, to just be.¬† Still.¬† Slow.¬† Quiet.¬† That’s huge.¬† I have been walking fast most of my life; it’s¬†a short girl thing.¬† It was¬†especially true in high school when my ability to walk fast and dart through the throngs of students on the walkways between buildings determined whether or not I’d be on time for class and thus stay out of the Vice Principal’s office one more day.¬† Then there’s that whole walking fast thing to burn energy, burn¬†calories, lose weight, stay healthy.¬† Our society is not one that emphasizes the benefits of walking slow.¬† Or crawling in the case of Emilio.

My Mama got it.¬† She could get more done in a day than most folks do in a week or maybe a month.¬† And yet she had her quiet times.¬† I honestly don’t remember ever seeing her in a hurry.¬† I don’t remember her ever saying, “Hurry up” or “right now!” or huffing and blowing getting out the door.¬† She simply did not run behind.¬† It’s a trait I admire as I did not inherit it.¬† At all.¬† I asked Sister if she ever remembered seeing Mama in a hurry.¬† And she immediately responded, “Yes.¬† I did. Once.”¬† She was quiet.¬† I asked her¬†“when” about the same¬†time the memory hit me.¬† When Daddy was being transferred from the local hospital to Emory in Atlanta at the end of August in 2009, Mama went home to pack and Sister was there to help her.¬† That is the only time either of us remember Mama being in a hurry.¬† She had strong faith and peace.¬† I wonder if her slow and steady pace helped with that.

As I rose from my squatting position to go back in the house this morning I thought about all of this.¬† I might need to tack a picture of Emilio on my mirror to remind me to slow down.¬† Don’t let my mind rush ahead with dreams and goals and ideas.¬† Slow down, listen, and wait.¬† I feel calmer just breathing that.¬† In and out.¬† Slow down.¬† Listen.¬† Wait.

I looked down at my new little guru and back at the sun that was getting brighter through the trees.¬† Another little bit and that pavement would warm up fast.¬† He didn’t seem to be headed toward the yard but instead in a line with the walkway.¬† Y’all know what happens to earthworms on hot pavement, right?¬† Very sad.¬† I felt like one of those wildlife photographers.¬† I know they are filming nature and have some sort of perhaps ethical something holding them back from letting the inevitable happen, but I could not bear to come back out in a couple of hours and find him baked on a 350 degree pathway.¬† I took a leaf and helped him along until he started wiggling so much it reminded me these guys must be related to snakes.¬† Ack!¬† I left him to his own devices to finish heading into the dirt. One stretch and wait at a time.

There he goes.  Thanks Emilio for stopping by and teaching me the ways of the earthworm.

There he goes. Thanks, Emilio, for stopping by and teaching me the ways of the earthworm.

May we all remember to let our bodies and souls catch up as we go through our busy, filled to the brim days–to slow down, listen, and wait.¬† I think that will be my¬†new breath prayer¬†as the winds of fall and yet more changes blow through my days and I find myself overwhelmed.¬† My friend taught us about breath prayers, an ancient practice that allows one to meditate through steady breathing and focusing thoughts.

Inhaling—slow down

Exhaling—Listen…..and wait

Walk slow, my friends.  And soak in the good that follows.