My dog and I saw something on our walk through San Mateo today that was quietly – but deeply – disturbing:
A graveyard of earthworms just outside the borders of a perfectly green, well-manicured lawn.
The reason why this was so disturbing is simple and terrifying. Earthworms are a sign of healthy soil. They help aerate the soil, and their castings give important nutrients back to the soil. Their presence is fertilizer for the garden, taking old, decaying plant matter and transforming it into food for new plants. They are also the original tillers of the soil.
Also, earthworms will evacuate an unsuitable location, and find a better place to live. They don’t just stay in a place hoping it will get better.
Why would about 20 earthworms, then, choose to die in the blazing sun rather than stay in what appeared to be a healthy, green lawn? Earthworms are good for lawns for all of the reasons listed above. The only reason anyone would want to do anything to the earthworm population in their lawn is because of a rough or bumpy lawn (look, if you want to live where it’s flat, go live in Florida), and that can be alleviated through other means.
I am suspicious of green lawns in the Western U.S. anyway. Unless a resident lives in an area with a daily marine layer (and even then, it’s dubious), this is just not an environment conducive to the type of sprawling green lawn that was popular in (soggy) England or the humid East Coast of the U.S. But these tastes migrated with the humans, so now we have people watering lawns during droughts. Hey, buddy. That’s my drinking water!
Nevertheless, if you want to have a small lawn with a healthy earthworm population, you’ll find that they help retain the moisture anyway. Bonus!
And yet, here we have this green lawn on a corner lot, with the suicidal earthworms all over the sidewalk. Why?
What will harm an earthworm population are pesticides.
The more I read about the subtle (and not so subtle) damage done by pesticides, the more I realize that we are doing so much harm to ourselves and our planet that we will feel for generations. It’s not just the earthworms.
The bees are dying. If the bees die out, we die. Or at least millions of us do, because bees are why we have food that grows out of the ground. Bees are why we have fruit, honey, and many pollinating plants. Bees are why we continue to have flowers. But there is an epidemic called colony collapse disorder, where whole colonies of bees are released (especially to commercial fields) and never return. And the honeycombs of those bees reveal traces of pesticides.
We are killing the very creatures that enable us to grow food. We are in partnership with them, have been all along, and we are killing them!
The food supply for the human race will suffer a devastating loss, certainly a loss in nutrients and diversity, if the bees die. Think about that. Bread and water (and huh, not much water if people in dry climates continue the quest for a green lawn) for your children or your grandchildren.
And the earthworms? Well, they give us healthy soil just by living their lives, healthy soil for these pollinating plants. We need them as well.
How can we, in good conscience, poison the lawn our children play on just to make it green, flat, and smooth, contributing to the demise of the most helpful creatures on the planet, at least one of which we cannot live without?
Really, is our vanity worth that much?
Back on the street corner with my dog, I looked around, and saw house after house, with a perfectly smooth, green lawn. Death traps all, in one way or another: pesticides killing the creatures that help them grow, and using water that we need for crops and for ourselves.
Does the animus mundi (the soul of the world) not scream for relief, for cleansing, for an end to its suffering? We would (and do) poison the very air we breathe and call it good if it feeds the vanity of our species. Is there any hope for us?
If we don’t wake up and listen to the soul of the world, there is no hope for the bees, for the earthworms, nor for us.
The realization made my heart heavy, and darkened an otherwise bright and sunny Bay Area afternoon.