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INCHWORMS: FROM DROUGHT TO DRENCHING
The above map looks more like winter than the unofficial start of summer. Temperatures here in New Hampshire are in the upper thirties this evening. A bit of slush was mixed in with the rain, as I studied splatting circles on the windshield, between the wiper’s sweeps, at a stoplight in Keene, as we drove home from eating out.
Last week we did talk a bit about a trip to the beach on Memorial Day Weekend, but as the week passed that seemed more and more like a bad idea, and sitting by a fire seemed more and more like a good idea. Venturing out to a warm restaurant and eating Thai food seemed like a bad idea to me at first, as I looked out at the raw, sweeping rain, but I’m glad I got budged from my armchair by my wife, and enjoyed a meal with my three sons, my wife, my daughter-in-law and my three grandchildren. These reunions will become more rare, I fear, as they head off into the big world.
When we noticed the slush on the windshield we recalled fishing derby chilled by falling snow around ten years ago, in late May. My wife identified the date as May 25, linking it with a nephew’s birthday, but I’m not sure it was quite that late.
I then recalled a day in May back around 1975 0r 1976 when the leaves had just opened out, and there was a half foot of snow in the western suburbs of Boston. I recalled hurrying to my boyhood neighborhood, where I was saddened to see many trees I had climbed as a boy had lost major limbs, or were broken down completely.
When we arrived back at home I noticed, on Joe Bastardi’s blog, a mention of a cold storm back on March 25, 1967, where a cold rain switched over to snow, which even accumulated as a thin slush on the deck of a yacht, racing on Long Island Sound.
The point being that this sort of miserable weather, although uncommon, is not unheard of in New England. It is not a sign of Global Warming or of Global Cooling. It is not proof of Catastrophic Climate Change. It is just a royal pain in the butt.
It was somewhat amazing how swiftly my garden went from too dry to too wet. I’m glad I held off on planting corn, squash and beans, for this sort of weather is perfect for rotting such warmth-loving seeds. However I did get my eggplant and pepper seedlings in, and I fear they will not be happy. Even if the weather warms next week, they do not take kindly to being chilled. Even if there is no actual frost, they tend to sulk, and in some cases seem to sulk all summer.
The children at our Childcare didn’t sulk as much as you’d imagine, as the weather went from warm and muggy on Monday, to a humid, soggy midweek, to showery, to abruptly chilly on Friday, as the rain let up for a bit, before the nor’easter brewed up on our coast.
The children were all too fascinated by how the mud, which had vanished in the drought, reappeared, and how our tiny pasture brook, which had also vanished, reappeared, as we had nearly three inches of rain in a series of heavy showers, during the week. And, though we keep the kids nicely wrapped in rain gear, they have an amazing ability to accidentally sit in the brook, and there is nothing short of dressing them in a wet suit that can keep them dry, when they do that.
At one point I saw a haughty seven-year-old covet a pail a four-year-old girl was using to dip water up from the brook in. The older girl tried to ask politely for the pail, and then tried guile, and then tried rearing up and blustering, but nothing worked. The four-year-old was in no mood to share the pail. So the seven-year-old resorted to barbaric brute strength, but the four-year-old clung to the pail with a look like a snarling leopard. I was rushing forward to break up the fight, but before I could break it up the pail’s handle broke, and the four-year-old fell backwards and sat in deep, oozy mud. The seven-year-old, who held the pail, saw me coming, and attempted to look nonchalant as the four-year-old wailed like an air raid siren. (Actually the seven-year old’s look of nonchalance was an amazingly good job of looking innocent, considering the circumstances, and I told her so, as I took the pail from her, whereupon she became a second air-raid siren.) I cleaned up the four-year-old as best I could, but her mother later wondered about the mud in her child’s fanny-crack, when she undressed the four-year-old for a bath that night.
As a general rule, I expect such fiascoes, and therefore try to keep the kids away from the mud, unless the weather is truly hot and I can hose them down afterwards. However kids just love mud, so I need a stroke of genius to lure them away. Unfortunately I was suffering from a shortfall of genius, and had to resort to being a mean, old grouch, and simply ordered them all uphill.
I don’t much like being a mean, old grouch. Getting glared at by a large number of children is not one of my favorite experiences. It makes me sigh, and it was as I sighed, and rolled my eyes towards heaven, that the answer came.
Just above my head a lower branch of a pasture oak made a ceiling of yellow-green leaves. Sometimes I can make grouchy children laugh by reaching up and jarring the branch, which brings down a shower of droplets when the leaves are drenched by rain. I then pretend to be upset by the mini-rain shower I cringe amidst, and the kids forget to hate me in fits of laughter. However before I could resort to this ploy I noticed a little inchworm hanging from a tiny stand of web, and said, less than brilliantly, “Well I’ll be danged! A little inchworm hanging from a tiny strand of web!”
It was a sort of miracle. I highly advise rolling your eyes to heaven as often as possible, for the children all were cured: They forgot they hated me and each other, and instead were wonder-struck.
Unfortunately they all, nearly instantly, became covetous of the inchworm. The boys said they deserved it, because worms are for boys, but the girls said they had just been crying like air raid sirens, and that meant they had suffered more and deserved the inchworm more.
Hatred towards me had been forgotten, however a new war between the sexes loomed, and I knew that if I sided the boys, the boys would fight among themselves about who got the worm, and if I sided with the girls the two girls would resume their battle. I would again have to step in and would again wind up hated. The inchworm would end up torn in two or else totally smushed. I again rolled my eyes to heaven.
Above me the light was shining through the yellow-green leaves, which are much more translucent when just unfurled, before they darken to forest green with summer chlorophyll. As I looked up at them I saw the webs of their veining clearly, and then also saw a short, straight shadow. I drew the leave carefully down and saw an inchworm on the upper side of a leaf. Then I carefully let the leaf rise back up, and said, somewhat casually, “Oh, it is easy to find inchworms, but I’ll only do it for the ones of you who don’t fight.”
The children instantaneously forgot their war, and I had their attention riveted on me as I pointed upward at the leaves, and told them to look for short, straight shadows, and then pretended to just discover the shadow of the inchworm. I nonchalantly drew the twig down and showed them the small inchworm on the top of the leaf.
Then the true miracle happened. Once I had showed them how to do it, and made it look so easy, they all began hunting inchworms. A week that might have been remembered as, “The Week Of The Rotten Weather,” will instead be recalled as, “The Week Of The Inchworms,” for it turned out they were rather good at inchworm-hunting. They found the typical little green ones, and even smaller lime-green ones, and fat grub-like deep-green caterpillars like the ones found on cabbages, and amazingly slender thread-like loopers, and even the despised (but beautiful) mini-caterpillars of just-hatched gypsy moth eggs.
They found so many inchworms I had to jokingly tell them to slow down, or the mother birds would have none left to feed their babies, (and I would run out of Dixie cups to hold them in.) The only down-side was the hint of displeasure parents later shot at me, as they arrived to pick up their children, and their children rushed to show them their new pets. However this discomfort was more than made up for by the simple fact the children were utterly engrossed, completely happy, and got along well with each other as they shared the wonder of each new discovery.
It was only a fad, and fads are forgotten. By next week inchworms will bore them, and they’ll move on to new interests.
However I did not forget to look heavenwards again, and be thankful. Once again I have turned children away from quarreling and fisticuffs, and taught them about nature, and once again I can take no real credit for it.
I can’t take credit despite the fact the nicer parents might even compliment me, saying, “I think it is so wonderful you teach our children about inchworms.”
I can’t take credit because I know deep down that, had I written down, “Teach about inchworms,” as a sort of agenda and curriculum, things would not have worked out so well. In fact we likely wouldn’t have even found an inchworm, and I would have been so frustrated that, after rolling my eyes to heaven, my eyes would have fallen, downcast, and I would only then have noticed fiddle-heads, or polliwogs, or slugs in the grass, and they would have become the nature lesson, instead.
To be honest, when dealing with children it doesn’t pay to plan too far ahead. An inch about does it.
In the same way, adults aren’t all that different. It takes longer, and the sense of time is different, but adults also inchworm forward, from droughts to drenching, pretending all is planned, when it isn’t. Not by us, it isn’t.
This Memorial Day I’ll be missing an old man who used to attend our little church, who, as a teenager, landed on Omaha Beach. He inched across the sand, one of the few who lived. He inched from moment to moment, horribly aware each moment could be his last, and indeed was the last moment for other teenagers, inching beside him.
The wind outside is gusting with unseasonable chill, as it did on the beaches of Normandy seven years before I was born. That storm convinced the Germans there could be no invasion that day. Had the weather been better, had the weather been “as planned,” the slaughter on all four beaches might have been even worse than the hell of Omaha beach, and the invasion might have failed.
We like to think we have all things planned out beforehand, but we don’t. Powers beyond our consideration are always messing up our battle plans, our agendas and curricula, our organizations and schedules, to a degree where even when we insist they are set in concrete, they are so variable they seem like little more than fads.
Last week it was important to water my garden, but it would have been foolish to do so this week. What seems to matter much, changes, as you move from drought to drenching. However there are some things that do not change, and one of those things is remembering to glance up towards heaven in gratitude.
In their own way my garden’s seedlings are still grateful I watered them, though I’d look stupid if I watered them today. Watering was not merely a fad. The seedlings might be dead, if I didn’t water them, though water is no longer needed today.
In some ways brainless plants are smarter than us, for at times we see the efforts of our elders as foolish fads, and rather than grateful are resentful. We know nothing of the droughts they endured, and we think the fact they watered us proves they are all wet.
And if we cannot even understand our fellow mortals, (and our elders are, after all, fellow beings only slightly older than we are,) how much less can we understand mighty powers beyond our consideration, especially the power of a Maker who, I believe, cares for us?
We can’t. We are mere inchworms, with the understanding of inchworms, compared to our Creator.
However we are inchworms who operate websites, and sometimes write rants that blare like air-raid sirens across the blogosphere to the far side of the planet, thinking the level of our noise proves we care, while the silence of the Creator is proof he doesn’t.
At our worst we think we are mighty, and the Creator is just an uncaring inchworm, if He exists at all.
Then again, sometimes the slings and arrows of droughts and drenchings makes us a bit more humble, and we toy with the idea we ourselves might be the inchworms.
The odd thing is that it is when you are feeling at your smallest, and most insignificant, that you tend to roll your eyes towards heaven. When at our least significant, we turn towards what is most magnificent. It doesn’t make much sense for a tiny thing to expect to be noticed by a huge thing, but we are not exactly sensible, when feeling small. We are like a terrible two-year-old tantruming that all the world must stop and heed him, when he stamps his foot.
Even odder is the sense I have that, when I roll my eyes to heaven, as a mere inchworm, I do get noticed. Despite all the things I forget to remember, even on Memorial Day, I am not forgotten.
Although I can’t remember
The day I was begotten,
And now get old, and oft forget,
I haven’t been forgotten.