Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Ground Crew

It’s been a tad soggy around here lately.  If the old ‘April Showers’ adage holds true, we may need kayaks to navigate May’s floral output. 

One sure sign of excess precipitation is the exodus of worms across my driveway.  Like a slow-motion version of the Oklahoma Land Rush, waterlogged wigglers slithered by last week, hoping to find dry ground.  Before I spotted this slimy phenomenon, I smelled it.  One step out the door and my sniffer caught the unmistakable whiff of moist invertebrate.  It’s the smell of rain with sweaty overtones.  I must’ve spent too many hours in the sun growing up, because I find this wormy aroma a strangely pleasant sign of spring. 

The worms, I’m sure, find it less so.  First of all, worms don’t have noses, so they probably can’t pick up the same whiff I’m sniffing.  But if they could, there’s no doubt: they would associate it with terror.  Before arriving on my driveway, they very nearly drowned in underground tunnels.  The only shelter they could find was this large expanse of unprotected concrete, a blank canvas announcing their predicament to Robins with all the subtlety of flashing neon.  And now I was preparing to drive a two-ton vehicle across it.  Not their best day.  I did avoid stepping on them, but navigating the Honda around them?  Not possible.  I can only hope the end came swiftly for the unlucky ones.  Vehicular death might actually be preferred to the environmental dangers the remnant faced.   A worm exposed to sunlight for more than an hour will become paralyzed.  If their slimy skin dries out, they’re toast (literally).  We’ve all seen the roasted remnants of sunburnt worms.  Seems like a slow, painful way to go. 

Worms have a tough life from the get-go.  They are essentially blind quadriplegics.  They have no eyes, arms or legs.  But what they lack in appendages, they make up for in stomach, and they don’t let their limitations hamper their appetite.  Worms can eat the equivalent of their weight each day.  The dream of feasting unhindered, whilst maintaining a slender form, is one I share with countless women.  But if we were forced to choose between the lifestyle of a worm and our own, I’m sure we’d all be willing to submit to a little dietary restraint. 

The worm’s day consists of chewing moldy, muddy morsels and slithering up and down through a dank dominion of darkness.  There is no light, no music, no Facebook, no Starbucks caramel macchiatos.  They can’t even stop to smell the roses.  There is only the business of tunneling and eating.  In the process of satiating their hunger, they set the stage for gardening magic above ground. 

As food percolates through a worm’s digestive track, it magically transforms into a plant smorgasbord of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium.  Even the slime they secrete contains nitrogen.  A worm’s excavations create passages that allow air and water to penetrate heavy soil.  This increases water-retention, which is essential for droughts and forgetful waterers, such as myself.  It also improves drainage, which prevents excess water from overwhelming sensitive roots. 

An acre of land can support up to a million earthworms.  This means my humble plot of ground could potentially have over 300,000 miniature excavators rumbling through the dirt, digging fertilizer-laced tunnels.  So, thanks to these wormy workhorses, thirsty roots can now stretch out into loose, moist, fertile ground, and begin shooting beauty above grade.  All that hard work pays off for this gardener, whose contribution - at most - was not to step on them in their time of need.  Small thanks indeed.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

And Then There Was Spring

The snow boots have been banished to the attic.  If I have to lug them back downstairs before November, I will require liberal amounts of consolation.  Fortunately, Easter delivered a blizzard of my favorite emotional sedative, chocolate.  A lone surviving Hershey’s bunny sits perched atop the fridge, his milky brown eyes keeping a keen watch out the window.  He knows the heavy price he will pay for an April snowfall.   

Most years, I battle my children in the First Day of Spring debate.  Like clockwork, one of them pops off the bus in mid March, triumphantly enters the house and proclaims the arrival of (insert trumpeters trumpeting) The First Day of Spring.  Some years, they trudge through nine inches of snow to make said proclamation, and sometimes they skip in wearing flip-flops.   The United States Department of Education has trained them to believe that Spring begins every year at the same time. 

I do my best to unlearn them of this fallacy.  Calendars do nothing to help my plight.  They mark it in as reliably as Memorial Day.  I was shocked to discover that even the Farmer’s Almanac acknowledges this title.  Look, I bear no ill will toward this holiday in general, just its nomenclature.  The day in question is known as the Vernal Equinox.  It is the half-year observance of equal day and night.  I welcome it with open arms. 

Winter bears several charms that I look forward to each year, but short nights isn’t one of them.  As Fall closes up shop, I feel the night closing in, like a python tightening its grip.  Instead of riding bikes and playing with the neighbors, my kids are cooped up indoors, squabbling over petty arguments.  Their eyes become glued to the unnatural glow emitting from electronic screens throughout the house.  My beloved after-dinner walk in the sunset necessitates fluorescent clothing and flashlights.  The occasional seven o’clock jaunt to the grocery store involves a dip into the seamy underworld of dimly lit parking lots.  Clearly, the Vernal Equinox bears nothing but good tidings for these cabin feverish eyes of mine. 

But it isn’t the First Day of Spring.

Spring doesn’t come on a day.  It isn’t like Aunt Sally, who makes travel arrangements and arrives at your doorstep on schedule.  Nor is it a holiday, such as Labor Day, here today and gone tomorrow.  Spring is an essence. 
A Hint of Spring: Unfurling Columbine Foliage

It comes in whispers with the first 40-degree day and muddy paw-prints on the floor.  Then it hints a little more boldly, as Robins begin plucking at worms and lilac buds swell.  Finally it tears through with lighting blasts, storm clouds thundering away at the retreating winter.  There is no guaranteed formula, as we learned so cruelly last year.  Spring has a mind all its own.  The best we can do is watch for the signs, collecting them like lucky pennies.  

A few weeks ago, my youngest came and tugged on my hand.  “Mom, you’ve GOT to see this!”  With three children, I hear this statement an average of four times a week.  It usually leads to the forcible viewing of a commercial touting a neon-colored piece of plastic or bottle of goo for the low, low price of $19.99 (shipping and handling not included).  So without turning my head, or even tuning in consciously, I replied, “Can you just tell me what it is, honey?”  “Nope, you’ve gotta SEE it for yourself!”  And then, with a conspiratorial smile, she whispered, “It’s a sign of Spring!” 

My heart melted.  A fellow convert!  I grabbed her hand and we headed off to admire some fresh tulip foliage.  Spring was dropping hints.

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