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All Creatures Great, Small & Wet E-mail
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Sunday, 25 June 2006
All Creatures Great, Small & Wet


University Wire

By Zeke Turner

HANOVER, N.H. -- When I was a boy, before I moved to the land of brownstones and apartment buildings, I used to spend warm afternoons crouched low in my backyard with a plastic cup. I would turn over flagstones, comb through dandelions and pansies and get dirt under my fingernails clawing through soil looking for bugs to put in my cup. Ants were easy to spot and catch, and Rolie Polies were effortlessly trapped between two fingers. However, the find that I relished most was the earthworm. I loved to see them squirm around in the bottom of my cup, leaking goo from their severed bodies (my bad).

You can imagine my dismay when rain flooded our campus over the last week, driving the earthworm population above ground to die a slow, waterlogged death in the puddles of our sidewalks. And you thought the rain ruined your Green Key weekend.

As furious as I was about the biblical downpour, I was humbled by the earthworm bodies that littered the sidewalk between Wheeler and the Hop. When I realized that this natural genocide was not receiving any coverage in any form of campus media, I began counting carcasses to build my case. On a single stroll, I counted 17 of my buddies, decomposing into the dirt they loved so much. In earthworm terms, that's about 34 casualties -- I've never tried splitting them in three, but I don't think it would go so well.

The next afternoon, the rain stopped for an hour or so and I went outside my dorm to see the sun. My warm retreat was ruined when I saw another one of my buddies accordion across the damp sidewalk looking for a warm patch of turf. I was confident that he would make it to shelter just fine.

When I returned to the porch an hour later to check on the sky, my earthworm friend was writhing in saturated agony, submerged in one of the many small pools that had formed, struggling to stay alive. Surely nature was taking its course, and my friend was meeting his end rightfully, if not peacefully. I was torn between rescuing him from death or letting nature take its course.

At that moment, I was transported back in time, to about a week earlier when I saw a toad pouncing around on the back porch of a frat. Although amphibians were normally too large to fit in my cup, I always hoped that I would find one in my backyard. After more than a decade of waiting, I had finally seen my toad.

However, a couple of nights later, I was saddened when I felt a strange squish under my flip-flops. It did not take long for me to realize that it was my friend from before, the toad, now dead in the very same spot. Surely if I had brought my buddy to safety he would still be hopping around now -- his death was all my fault. I promised myself to never let another creepy-crawly companion die on my watch.

As my earthworm friend squirmed to survive, I remembered my promise and grabbed a twig to carry him back to the lawn. I returned to my room, high on self-righteousness. Mine was just like the story about the boy at the ocean, throwing beached starfish back into the surf during a storm. "I made a difference for that one," I said to myself.

Soon enough, I was faced with the grim reality of natural disaster when I left for dinner later that night. I stepped outside only to find my earthworm dead in the same puddle, unreachable in the clutches of death.

We live in a world where life itself is taken for granted. Our president would rather fight for oil (Iraq) than for the lives of our brothers (Darfur) even after our scientists have told us that our dependence on fossil fuel will destroy the homes of countless species in the Arctic. We would rather spend money building bombs that kill than levies that protect. Even so, we feel invincible in the fleeting arch of our youth, tucked away at college, when really, the next deluge could leave us gasping for our last breaths at the bottom of a filthy puddle or stuck to the bottom of a flip-flop.

But at least we got to see Jenn Sterger before we died.

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