Thoughts for the day after a hard rain
The grass, too long now to mow easily, is spangled with water droplets from the drenching rain we got yesterday. Earth worms rise to the surface when it rains that hard, so they don’t drown. And the robins, early birds for a reason, are hunting amongst the wet, shining swords of grass.
I have millions of earth worms here, on the prairie, where once the alkaline, hard-packed soil had no life that wasn’t furry and burrowing. But because I’m an avid fisherman, I turned loose my bait after a day of fishing, when I knew I wouldn’t get to go again soon. 20 years later, you cannot dig anywhere that isn’t thick with earth worms. During the last rainstorm, I collected dozens of fleeing red feetless escapees of the flood inching across my porch, and put them in coffee grounds and potting soil, hoping to go fishing soon. But my fishing partner has failed to appear. And my ranch chores never seem to end.
I’ve watched the robin hunt. She hops, stops, turns her head to listen and peer into the crisscross of green with her sharp eye, then strikes to grab the blade-end of a worm. She pulls, and tries to not lose her grip, sometimes falling backwards. The worm tightens, loosens, tightens, loosens, just like it moves. If she pulls when it loosens, it comes out easily.
Then she tosses it, away from its burrow. I’ve seen a robin gulp down a worm like a kid sucking a long spaghetti strand, as soon as she pulls it from the ground. But if she has young to feed, she spends a lot of time pecking the long, squirming earth worm into smaller pieces that she finally gathers into her beak to take home.
What have I learned from the avid hunter of my lawn? That kids are a lot of work, and the robin is a mean-ass, cruel bitch-bird murderess. I would have killed the worm before I dissected it. Does that make me less fit for survival? Or did I just move here to feed the robin’s chicks?
Last week, when I picked up the tiny cottontail kits Revlon killed in less than a second—perfect except for their glazed eyes that would now never see the world, and the drop of blood on each nose—I wondered at the cruelty of life. I think, if we are to survive successfully, we must be crueler than we are inclined to be, but also retain more kindness than cruelty teaches us to practice. It’s an almost impossible balance. But we are one of the few species still alive, from all the original seedings on earth. We must, innately, understand this better than we think.