For someone who has proudly proclaimed myself a bookworm from the moment I learned what the word meant, I have an uneasy relationship with the real thing. It isn’t only worms that I loathe; I include anything in the Genus Creepy, Crawly. In the hierarchy of repugnance, snakes are worse than worms, and leeches top them all. A half century later I still recall a family outing to a beach that had me dancing like a whirling dervish in utter, horrified silence because a leech had attached itself to my leg and I couldn’t shake it off. It took my mother a few moments to register her eldest daughter’s highly unusual behaviour and run to the rescue, but the trauma is still as vivid as the day I experienced it.
Oddly, you could say worms shaped various parts of my childhood and character. One rainy day in elementary school, the boys decided to pick up worms at recess and toss them at the girls when we reassembled in the classroom before the teacher joined us. Though I quailed when a couple of worms landed on my desk, I calmly flicked them away. Disappointed with my non-reaction, the boys then ignored me and turned to the girls who emitted satisfying screams. That was both a huge relief and an eye-opener, as I learned a valuable lesson on the efficacy of self-control.
A few years later, my mother offered me a choice between two chores: I could help weed the large vegetable garden that fed our family, or do ironing. Purely for fear of encountering worms while working outside in the sunshine and fresh air, I chose the latter. As it turned out, ironing was a good career choice. It later came in handy to know how to avoid railroad tracks in my uniform shirts and turn out a sharp crease in my military trousers.
For much of my adult life, I managed my aversion to crawly horrors well. I avoided herpetariums while visiting zoos, and averted my eyes if a snake popped up on TV. It goes without saying that I’d walk a mile out of my way to avoid a snake in the wild, though there was one time I was unable to do so. I was on a military exercise, out in the bush with no formal facilities, and we had to relieve ourselves wherever it was convenient. Whilst doing so, I realized that a small snake was coiled on the ground about a metre in front of me. I didn’t panic, but I finished what I was doing and left as quickly as I could. I have to give the snake credit, though. I wouldn’t have been as composed if someone were peeing in my living room.
My disengagement with worms came to an abrupt halt when we moved to Calgary and I took up gardening. Encountering worms was inevitable, still I never lost my instinctive revulsion, and I never garden without gloves. Each year I add a few perennials and a lot of colourful annuals to my seven small gardens. This year’s planting featured an unusual abundance of worms as I dug into their parlours, displaced them with seedlings, and even occasionally maimed them. In my defence, I wasn’t deliberately practicing wormicide, but it’s impossible to see where they are until your trowel has already disembowelled them.
On the last day of spring planting, I saw something highly unusual. A worm was caught between the slats in the centre of my large deck. He more than a metre from any grass, and could not have come up from beneath the deck as that’s open space except for support beams. Though he flopped and wriggled, he could not extricate himself. I was at a loss for what to do, and totally grossed out. He wasn’t the size of a snake, but he was far larger and whiter than the worms I usually encountered.
Hopeful that he would simply vanish without my intervention, I continued planting, but he was securely wedged between slats that you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between. I took it personally. He was obviously committing seppuku as a deliberate affront; there was no reason for him to be where he was or to have gotten into his predicament otherwise. I considered just leaving him slatted until he died, dried, and shrank, which would make it easier to remove him, but I couldn’t face walking out onto my deck every morning until that happened. So eventually I took my trowel and, with a grimace, worked his by-then corpse out of the slats and into the garbage.
Perhaps the gods planted the unfortunate worm as retribution for the inadvertent wormicide I’d committed in my twenty-three years of gardening. Perhaps he was just a direction-challenged worm who lost his way. Certainly he was a worm I will never forget, so I suppose, in a way, he achieved unprecedented immortality. For how many other worms have ever had a blog dedicated to their demise? As for me, I just hope the local creepy crawlies confine themselves to the dirt and stay off my deck. We’ll all be happier that way.
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