We humans are a funny bunch. As a group we tend to think we’re separate from the rest of the inhabitants of the planet. There’s us and then there’s the rest–animals and organisms of every size and shape, filling every imaginable nook and cranny on the planet. Even those of us who share our lives with animals, who realize we humans are just a cog in the wheel of the earth, and realize there are complex societies of other life forms, with languages and rituals we don’t understand, tend to think we’re “apart” from the rest of the world’s creatures. And in a way we are. We’ve become so focused on ourselves that we forget there are other nations out there. Sometimes, though, we come face to face with the fact that we SHARE the planet. And sometimes we are reminded of this in ways that astound us, or that have us looking for the “human reason” behind something, making up a story to explain the amazing, almost eerie realization that despite our overlarge footprints, we are so small.
Take my recent discovery. I’d been noticing this for a while, but until spring and warmer weather, it was just one or two that could be explained away. On a recent sunny spring morning, though, it was obvious I was sharing the back yard with a tiny nation of…flag waving nightcrawlers? Truly. Except the flags were feathers. I kept finding the chickens’ larger feathers (molted naturally) sticking out of the ground here and there. At first I thought it was somehow natural, that the feather was stuck, quill in the ground, by accident. Then I noticed a few more. Then I noticed a dozen, all around the outside of the coop and into the lawn. It was like someone had come along and planted feathers. Except no one did. It was the worms. If you’re familiar with nightcrawler worms, you know you rarely see them. Usually only a pile of castings (the name for worm manure–black gold for gardeners) by their burrow (wormhole) after a spring rain, as if they had to purge a few micrograms to fit back in after a night of foraging. Sometimes there’ll be bits of wood or straw collected at the burrow entrance. I have never seen the use of feathers like this, though. At least not in such profusion that I realized that, hey, this isn’t just accidental. No, this is some sort of…what? Territory marking? Decor? Mating behavior to attract another worm over for a fling?
As I walked around the yard (Farley thinking I was going to throw the ball again any minute) and counted the feathers, and looked at the variety, I couldn’t help but imagine the little world below my feet. There were large feathers, small feathers, dark feathers and light feathers. Some were pulled down firmly and stood up straight. Others were barely into the burrow and listing badly. I also imagined the how…how does a worm pull a feather several feet away and into a hole. I mean, not only do they not have opposable thumbs, they have no limbs at all!
I was charmed by the sight of this little nation, and waxed anthropomorphic, while at the same time a little weirded out. I mean, it takes some kind of thought process to purposely do this, right? I suppose we could write it off, saying it was mindless, instinctual behavior. That the worms aren’t doing this conciously (there–didn’t your hair just stand up just a little at the thought of a “concious worm”) and don’t even know what they’re doing. That would be so human of us.