The “Tonight Show” may be moving back to New York after all these years, but I always prefer to be be moving in the opposite direction – that is, back to southern California after a sojourn in the Big Apple. That’s especially true when I’m leaving freezing precipitation behind and heading back to my cozy pad in sunny San Diego. Not that my recent homecoming was especially dry or sunny – but that was OK, because rain is something it seems we can’t get enough of here these days.
The thing I like best about returning home during the winter, however, is being able to take a walk and observe the vicissitudes of nature without being weighed down by a parka, hat and gloves.
The morning after my most recent return from the Northeast, for example, I went out hiking on a horse trail in Rancho Santa Fe and had the pleasure of witnessing a rare and somewhat amazing sight: a mass migration of earthworms. They were everywhere, taking advantage of the much-awaited dampening of their habitat to venture forth into new territory. Now, maybe you never thought of earthworms as being particularly beautiful, but that’s how I would describe this phenomenon. I had not seen so many earthworms in years, and I had almost forgotten how valuable – indeed, critical — they are in maintaining the viability of our soils. It was the kind of thing that you usually see only on shows like “Nature” that give us a sneak peak at how different species of flora and fauna behave in private.
It also made me recall how we used to play with earthworms as kids – how we would pick them up and let them crawl around our hands, just like we did with ladybugs. While we might not have realized the purpose they served in nature’s grand design, in our own way, we gave them respect as part of the natural scheme of things.
And maybe that’s what I like most about hiking that horse path – it’s an environment in which the creatures whose job it is to turn the nutrients in soil into plant food can flourish, without our intervention. Even its use by humans helps in that regard, since the droppings from the horses get naturally recycled into fertilizer, as they were intended to do.
It’s a reminder that we don’t really need all those chemicals to cultivate our crops – all they do is interfere with the job that Mother Nature has been successfully doing for eons, using her own agents, such as earthworms to process the soil and ladybugs to keep other ‘critters’ such as aphids from getting out of hand.
Whether or not you believe there was once a literal Garden of Eden, I think we can say one thing without reservation: if it existed, it would have had no chemicals to help things grow. But I think Eden would have had earthworms, along with ladybugs and – yes – even horse manure.