It’s raining today, one of those cold spring rains that is both wonderfully refreshing and terribly dismal at the same time. The toddler wanted to go outside to play and I agreed, since the baby had just gone down for a nap and that makes it much easier to manage outdoor play. We fought with last year’s rain boots for quite a while before having any success, but finally emerged out of the house into a very wet yard.
Playing in the sandbox was altogether unsuccessful, as was my idea of writing notes for a blog post while supervising his play. We ended up exploring the garden beds, inspecting the newest plant shoots, a few desecrated tulips (the toddler denied my suggestion that he might be responsible), and kicking the soccer ball around the patio. Then we began looking for earthworms.
The toddler recently discovered worms when I found one and put it in his hand to inspect. He was absolutely delighted by the long, writhing body, the slow movement, the exploratory nudges and pokes that the worm’s head (or was it its bum?) gave the palm of his hand. He carried that first worm around for a good while, named it after his father, and tucked it under some leaves when he grew bored. I think he was just delighted at finding another little alive being that’s always outside, for everything (and everyone) is a potential playmate at this age.
I checked under a number of rocks, which is usually a sure way to find a lazy, surprised worm. Lifting rocks, however, always gives me a slight feeling of unease. You see, I once had a traumatic experience involving a large rock and an unexpected discovery underneath. Though many years of passed, I can still remember the horrible feeling as clearly as if it were yesterday…
My sister Sarah and I were about five and seven years old. We liked peeking under rocks – oh, the kinds of things you do for fun when you live in the bush! It was a sunny spring day and there was a particularly large boulder that we decided to tackle, heaving and pushing with combined strength till it suddenly lifted. Sitting in a neat little hole right beneath was the biggest, ugliest toad I’ve ever laid eyes. It was huge, fat, globular, reptilian, and ghastly in its shocking, surprising appearance. It hopped. We screamed and dropped the rock.
Only then did we realize what we’d done. Trembling with horror, still stricken by the shock of seeing something like that when we didn’t expect it, and beginning to comprehend that we were now responsible for its death, we rushed to find the nearest adult. It happened to be a young guy who was working on our house. Sarah and I insisted that he drop what he was doing and lift the rock to confirm our worst fears. He did so obligingly and told us that the toad was indeed dead. Then he returned to his work and we were left with our aching consciences.
That rock is still at the parents’ house. I know exactly which one it is and I’ve never lifted it again. Every time I lay eyes on it, I half expect the toad’s ghost to rise and demand restitution of sorts. That memory haunts me every time I lift a rock to see what’s underneath. Whether it’s a worm or a beetle or a sprout, I always replace the rock with particular care to ensure I don’t squish what is beneath.
Despite my traumatic memory, I continue to hunt worms on behalf of my son, who must learn to delight in all things natural. Today, though, the worms must have sensed me coming because there was not a single one in sight. Just as well, I suppose – the earthworms are passing on the word that playing with the toddler is not always the most pleasant experience!