Wednesday, August 8, 2007


When I was a kid, growing up in the suburban wilds of central California, earthworms were things you bought in small plastic tubs. You took the worms, sacrificed them one at a time to the Great Fish God of the Lake, and then went home to civilization, where no wild worms dared to tread.

Many moons, three daughters, and a new husband later, this former Big-City girl finds herself living her dreams of the simple life in the hollers of eastern Kentucky. I am now the proud owner of a 1930's fixer-upper and 8 acres of dirt. Dirt that had these strange little holes in it. I found myself trying to figure out just what was making all those tiny holes. Snakes? No, holes too small. Some sort of bug? No, holes too large. And then, one dark evening, it was raining. In fact, it was raining so hard, I began to worry that the creek had jumped its bank. I grabbed the flashlight and started walking down the hill towards the creek. And the ground was moving. I could see the movement in the shadows out of the corner of my eye, but when I shone the flashlight on the area, all I saw were those stupid holes. All the horror movies I ever saw about subterranean creatures attacking the helpless campers began to play through my mind as I made the world's quickest trip to the creek and back.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, worms were making the holes and scaring me half to death. Yes, I am a city girl. I am afraid of the worm that crawls by night. I finally realized two things. One: after three straight months of rain, the ground tends to get soggy, and Two: worms don't do soggy. They come up for air. Ergo; holes.

OK, I had figured out the 'Mystery of the Holes'. Worms in the garden is a good thing, I read. I apparently have good soil. Translation: my garden will grow. I really didn't think about it again. That is, until planting season came.

I had great fun reading seed catalogs all winter, planning my garden. No more cardboard tomatoes and frozen corn-on-the-cob for me, no sir. I'm gonna have a real garden! Spring finally arrived. The weather stopped raining/freezing and started being sunny/warm. So I eagerly went out to dig my garden plots.

Over the winter I marked out and mulched four 4'x8' garden beds. They now had to be turned and gone over with the tiller to smooth out the dirt so I could plant all my carefully selected seeds. I took my shovel in hand. I pushed it into the earth with my foot. I levered out the dirt to turn it. And there were streaks of worm-blood on the dirt. GROSS!! Then I panicked. I was killing all my worms! Nothing would grow in my garden, because I had killed my worms!! The children, meanwhile, had noticed something was amiss (my shriek may have tipped them off. Nah...) and had come over to investigate.

"Oooo, cool, worm blood!" enthused the boy from next door.
"Poor worms!" cried my daughter, who then started gathering up the cut worm parts.
I shrieked again. "Put it down, put it down!"

She did, then looked up at me with those trusting blue eyes. "They'll grow again from each part, right, Mom?"
"Uh, yeah, that's what they say. Let's make sure they're under the dirt, so they can grow, OK?" I said, as nonchalantly as I could. She carefully covered them up with a dirt clod.

I went back to trying to dig my garden beds. Each shovelful of dirt was streaked with the evidence of my wanton slaughter. I started trying to dig around the worms, which was difficult, since I couldn't see them. I would push the shovel in as slowly as I could, to give them time to get out of the way. I would then carefully l-i-f-t the dirt up, wait until I saw no worms, and then flip it over.

I finally finished digging one 4'x8' bed. I could take no more. My husband had been watching this little farce with amusement, but had not offered to help. I begged him to please, pretty please, sugar on top, do the tilling to smooth the dirt. I couldn't watch any more worm-slaughter, and I fled to the house for a cold glass of tea.

I comforted myself for several weeks after this episode with the fact that most of the old-timers in the area hadn't started laying out their gardens yet. I had plenty of time to finish digging my garden beds, I reassured myself. And then, one weekend in mid-May, while running errands, I noticed that everyone else in the holler was out tilling their gardens. Drat.

I put it off until evening. I finally ran out of good reasons to procrastinate any longer and faced the fact that I had to brave the worm brigade to establish my garden. I shouldered my shovel and marched down to the garden area. I resolutely drove my shovel into the dirt. And, praise be, the worms were all below where I was digging. They must have heard me coming. I saw their holes. I didn't see them. I completed the digging of the garden beds without the shedding of (much) blood. Yes!! I am the worm master. I have mastered the worms.


Mike said...

Welcome on board Catherine, and with a good little story to boot. Of course, don't you think for a minute that I laughed or anything. Nope. It was more like a rollin' in the floor thing. :D

Hummmmm, I've been looking for a good Worm Master. Wonder if you could be had this weekend? I got those ol' green Horn Worms all over my tobacco and it's too close to cutting to spray again. Gotta go through and pluck 'em off by hand, I reckon. We usually just squash them between our fingers, but who am I to be telling a Worm Master such simple things. I bet you got all kinds of tricks for tobacco worms.

Don't hold it against your husband for just standing there and watching you toil, it's a hard thing to get amusements up the holler most days and well, that day you were it. rofl.

Keep them stories and tales coming.


Emily B said...

Welcome to Appalachian Writers! What an adventure this must be. . . City girl from California on her very own nine acres of land in the holler. Have fun with your garden, you ought to be getting some of those heavenly sun ripened tomatoes by now.

Oh, and Mike, you want to borrow all my children to pluck the tobacco worms. Anna's always trying to make pets out of worms and snails, but they don't usually live long. :-D

Mike said...

rofl @ Emily. Well, don't tell Anna, but the purpose of this exercise is for those tobacco worms to NOT live at all.

I know exactly how to get the job with children:

1 - Tell them no matter what, they are not to bother those big green worms in the tobacco patch!

2 - Should they accidently come across one those worms, for God's sake, don't hurt it!

Before dark that day, there wouldn't be a tobacco worm left in Hardin county. ;)