Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Needy worm time again already

Commentary by Betty Bell


Betty Bell

I miss winter, not only frolicking in plentiful snow, but also the serenity, the worry-free long spell when I could scoot along pretty darn good on a bike path freshly groomed. But sometimes in the middle of a splendid ski I'd get a momentary flash—I'd picture worms, the worm species in its entirety snug down-under safe in their burrows under a four-foot roof of snow. When I'd go off on a tangent like that I'd try to swerve back to the moment, to look up at Baldy and squint and imagine myself swiveling down Exhibition, all the lift riders going ooooh, aaaah. Not that I elicited ooooh-aaaahs when I hacked Exhibition, but hey—our species won the lottery when we got the imagination gene.

Well, the big melt came and went, and I waited for the big rains. We didn't get big rains for weeks, though, and I thought it might turn into one of our rainless springs, God forbid that I'd purposefully think so selfish a thought. It isn't that I don't like big rain; I dread it solely because of the havoc wrought on worms. In a big rain worms are in big trouble. If they stay in their burrows they drown; even baby worms maybe not yet weaned, if that's a process they go through, have enough survival instinct to head upside.

Well, rainless didn't last. We finally had a cloudburst, but when I looked outside I couldn't help picturing zillions of wee, colorful birds' eggs getting floated right up out of their nests. The awful picture helped me switch to worrying about how it was going with the worms. I could just see them struggling to the surface, finally breaking through, gasping, thinking, no doubt, they had it made, and then, inexorably, it would seem, drawn to the deadly bike path.

When the cloudburst stopped and the sun too beckoning to ignore, I got on my bike with the fenders—Lordy, I love riding that bike through the slop when serious riders on serious bikes get striped fore and aft.

For weeks, I pedaled down a bike path that was all-clear ahead, nary a writhing worm to test my compulsion to come to its aid. It was a lovely time when I gave myself pep-talks, told myself if I put my mind to it I could quit worm rescue cold-turkey.

"You've put in your time," I'd ying-yang. "There're plenty of compassionate young'uns to take over—better able to stoop over than you, too...betcha if you strung up all the worms you've rescued they'd stretch from here to Boise.

This day, the first needy worm day, the bike path was a mess. I slalomed through the needy for two...three hundred yards, pedaling lickity-split—you remember lickity-split, your first taste of wild the day you dropped your training wheels. Lickity-split's forbidden on the bike path, but we've all seen cheaters. Instead of "10 mph" warnings that you need a speedometer to heed, the warnings should say, "No lickity-split!" Everybody knows lickity-split.

I didn't out-pedal my worm concern; soon I started to feel a terrible heaviness within. Hadn't God intended for worms to churn up soil, enrich it, and make it better? I'd already pedaled by a bunch of worms and denied them their calling, so I stopped next to the mature, well-built specimen stretched out by my tire.

In past worm rescue protocol I'd pluck a weed stalk alongside the bike path, carefully slide it under the worm's middle, and hoist the wriggling thing to the side, hopefully far enough from the bike path so it wouldn't end up there again. This time, and heaven only knows how I got the nerve, I touched the worm ever so lightly with my pointer finger. In a blink, it pulled itself together, retracted into a writhing mass easy to pluck. Away from its usual niche it wasn't nearly as slimy as the worms I once was crass enough to dig up, mercilessly hook, and then throw in the lake to lure poor little crappies. Could that really have been me?

I readily acknowledge that there aren't many afflicted with worm savior complex, though I know there are a few. When I whined about the stress of worm season last spring—added stress because we dare not be caught in the act—you came to me shyly, touched my arm, whispered, "I save worms too."

Fellow pilgrims, stay courageous—stay secretive—but be proud. It's God's work you do.

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