By Nimue Brown
To call someone a ‘worm’ is usually an insult. If you ‘worm your way’ into anything it tends to imply that you aren’t entitled to be there and that your method for getting in was dodgy. Linguistically, worms get a rough deal, but out there in nature they are tiny powerhouses and worthy of our respect.
In terms of the life of the soil, worms are essential. They aerate it as they pass through. They help break down debris, alongside the micro-organisms and fungi also at work. Worms will draw plant matter from the surface down into the soil, eat it, poo it out as soil, and thus add to the fertility of the land.
Worms provide food for a lot of other beings. They are eaten by a number of birds – although I always think of blackbirds as the main worm eater. Moles of course eat worms, and so, more curiously, do badgers. Given the size difference, it may seem like an odd menu choice, but scruffluing up worms to eat is a big part of what badgers get up to of an evening.
Taken as an individual, a worm isn’t much. It’s just a squishy, mobile stomach. Things go in one end, and come out the other. One worm more or less doesn’t change anything much. Taken collectively, the value of worms to the rest of the living world is vast.
As humans, we make up a lot of stories about the triumph of the lone individual. Most of us will never be the lone, standout hero, and condemn ourselves to a life of feeling jealous, mediocre, unsuccessful, irrelevant. We could learn a lot from worms. As with worms, small actions from large numbers of people have huge effects. Our one small bit, more or less, doesn’t seem very relevant, but what we do as a whole has considerable consequences. At the moment, those consequences are grim, but it need not be so.
If we all took ourselves a bit more seriously as one chewing worm amongst many, perhaps we’d be a bit more careful about what we put into the soil. If we learned to see the power of small things, like worms, we might better be able to see pour own power, and to use it effectively. We might be less afraid to worm our way in to places of power and influence rather than believing we don’t belong there. We might be less tolerant of the way those bigger humans, with power and resources, use labels like ‘worms’ to discount the masses. We might see the power in numbers, embrace our inner worms, and make some real changes.