Wild Worms

In my calendar, it is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent begins as an explicitly earthy church day. Christians, sometimes after a day of Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday pancakes and doughnuts, launch the season of Lent with a reminder that our stories are intimately connected to the dirt.

“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Something like these words are spoken in churches and on street corners as a sign of the cross is marked in ashes on the forehead.

This simple solemn act of remembering we are earth-creatures claimed by God has gotten complicated for me.

It is different to be marked with the cross than to watch one’s kiddos be marked with the same cross. Ashen crosses on little foreheads can be a topsy-turvy confrontation with ones hopes and fears. Claimed as loved with a visible sign that the dust will one day re-claim them. Complicated, to say the least.

Lent also points to the days Jesus spent in the wilderness. Wildsparrows.com is part of a project at the intersection of cities, spirituality, nature, and theology. Are the forest preserves of Cook County wilderness in the city? Is the nature sanctuary that runs along the lakefront? Or, is wilderness better linked up with the staggering gun violence in Chicago in the early months of 2016? I don’t have any answers for these questions; wilderness is complicated, too.

And, so, too dirt and dust and soil. Our household practices worm composting, vermicomposting. We have a small-scale worm bin that houses a respectable community of Red wiggler earthworms (Eisenia fetida).

These are some amazing creatures. They are turn waste into gold. They take our banana peels, coffee filters, eggshells, and paper and turn it into worm castings. Nutrient rich fertilizer that can promote soil health. They have 5 “heart-like” structures, “breathing” skin, and they give my kids a good reason to say “worm poop.” They could divert massive amounts of organic matter out of the waste stream headed to our landfills and rebuild the soil.

I worried that these Red wigglers might be too good to be true. Could they become an invasive species? So far, I’ve found no evidence. Red wigglers are very well adapted to worm bins but less so to cold Illinois winters and urban soil conditions.

Much like the Ash Wednesday cross that connects our living to our birth and our death, our Red wigglers have connected our eating to the dust and to the soil. Soil is amazing, too. A handful of well-composed soil contains more organisms than there are humans on the planet. The remembrance that we are dust and to dust we shall return is no longer just a marker of being a humble earth-creature. There is nothing humble or simple about worms and soil.

If you’re not convinced, watch Dirt: The Movie, build a worm bin, or listen to Farmer Jonathan Scheffel at Healthy Soil Compost, LLC, a “bicycle powered, year-round, zero emission food scrap collection service for residents and businesses of Chicago.”

Soil and earthworms. Wild!

NatureMama Bonus: Earthworm Anatomy Coloring Page

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