Our yard in May contains the world. Wisconsin teems with life. For many of us living in climates where the temperatures are at or below freezing for so many months of the year, this is a heady experience. One day you’re wearing your jacket and mittens and looking at everything brown and gray, and almost like Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland, the next moment goes blindingly Technicolor.
It is grass that melting snow washes to emerald green. Tiny lime-colored leaves on black branches. Tulips, orange, and pink, and red. Daffodils, deep yellow and apricot. Lilacs, deep purple, lavender, and white.
Robin’s breast russet, and then those impossibly lovely blue shells their babies shed in unexpected places. I find one on the metal chair on the front deck. Cardinals, still here, looking tropical now, the crimson against the green. Red-winged black birds. White herons. Orioles, as orange as the fruit we feed them.
The sky at day, a brilliant blue, at night diamonds and velvet.
My husband calls me out to the yard.
“You have to see this.”
It’s dark and slightly cool. Wet.
He shines a flashlight across the lawn, catching the quiet, clandestine movements of thousands of earthworms.
They are everywhere. The lawn is undulating like the surface of a lake. I’m afraid I’ll hurt them.
He bids me come. “Step slowly. Lightly.”
I’m sure I shouldn’t be out like this, could never tread lightly enough. I say a quick prayer. “Please don’t let me do any harm.”
We stand together watching the glistening movement as the worms slide back into the ground. Everywhere the light hits them, they move. We talk about what they are doing. We’ve never learned.
I suspect they come up out the earth and the rich dark loom to gulp in the sweet, sweet air. My husband suspects it’s for sex.
We know very little about the life of worms. Such a common thing to know so little about. We feel silly, and are sure these must be things our parents were born knowing. Like the call of a mockingbird.
Then, a voice inside me says, This is why they’re called night crawlers, Lori. And I know I am a complete dolt. How could this simple fact have escaped my attention all these years? Though it’s no excuse, night crawlers is not a term I ever remember being used in my family. Just earthworms, or simply worms. We didn’t fish, and we didn’t garden much. Out of sight, out of mind.
But “Night crawlers” is so much more evocative. Briefly, I picture little worm-sized, worm-shaped zombies crawling out of tiny worm-graves, marked by little crosses and a mausoleum or two—“Here lies Squirmy, Beloved Father and Husband”—our entire lawn a movie set for a new Tim Burton story.
“They’re good for the garden,” I say. (We’ve just planted tomatoes, peas, beets, onions, peppers, lettuce, and broccoli.)
As we walk back to the house, I think, “And fireflies will be next.”
Rachel “Lori” Pohlman, Copyright 2016
*For some interesting facts on worms, such as the fact that, yes, there is some sex involved in night crawling (but that’s not all they do), go to: http://blog.nwf.org/2014/02/ten-things-to-know-about-earthworms/.