I believe that science is beautiful and that we are all interconnected.
I worked most of my “career” life measuring and quantifying things that the eye never sees: how much DNA binds to a certain drug, how the hydrocarbon profile of a sample of crude oil from Arabia compares to one from Brazil, what are the volatile pollutants in a soil sample from Colorado. Maybe because so many of my days were spent in a lab with no windows, using instruments that poke, prod and destroy molecules, I am often compelled to be outside in wild spaces where nature has her way. I marvel at how it all works and how much we still do not know.
When people ask what I do now that I am retired, I say that I read and garden. But really I mostly just watch things. Feathered or furred, finned or fanged, sun lit or rain washed, forested or flowered, gardens or galaxies . . . I watch it all. To me, fascinating is almost the same thing as beautiful. Many adults don’t agree, but children often do. The most delightful things I watch are the children themselves, who all come to this life as scientific observers and hands-on explorers of everything earth has to offer.
So as one way of sharing my love of science and nature, I volunteer where I can watch kids watching things. It is ever fascinating and beautiful.
My local Master Gardener organization does in-school programs that teach kids, kindergarten through fourth grade, about garden related things: soil, seeds, trees, butterflies, and my favorite: “Worms to the Wise”. Most of it is simple stuff. Here is your worm. Which end is the head? Hmmmm, maybe not so simple to determine in a creature with no neck and pointed at both ends! Question: would you move if you were dumped in a very strange new place and a weird noisy creature poked you with a stick? Didn’t think so! First lesson: patient observation and empathy.
What do earthworms do under the ground? Eat their way through the soil. Do they need arms, legs, eyes? Nope: a lesson in geology and efficient engineering. How are those tunnels helpful to plants? They make open spaces for plant roots and water to go: botany and hydrology. What do they eat? Leaves and decayed plant material (yuck!): biology, nutrition and recycling. What is the biggest enemy of the earthworm? Trick question: it’s not a what (bird or frog or mole) but a who: we humans who are careless with our use of pesticides that cannot differentiate between a moth and a mosquito thus killing them all indiscriminately: chemistry and ecology.
Maybe one of the little boys squinting through the hand lens to find the tiny lip flap mouth (prostomium) will go on to some day learn that his DNA is 99% the same as that of a chimpanzee. And maybe one of the little girls giggling at the idea of earthworm “poop” (castings) will some day learn that we share 44% of our genes with a fruit fly. I don’t tell them that. Or that there is no Sam or Suzy worm…… unless someone asks about babies. Then I say that they lay eggs, as many birds and insects do, but that earthworms are all alike (hermaphrodites) – a lesson in one of the many variations in earth’s creatures.
For now I just hope he learns that the earthworm’s tiny brain is trying to guide its many bristle feet (setae) away from the life-threatening light and dryness, to a place of safe darkness and moisture. And that the dampness she feels as “Ooey Gooey” crawls up her arm, no longer seems so yucky when explained as necessary for that other creature to keep breathing (through its skin): compassion and understanding.
And I secretly hope that at least a few of them will come to believe that science is as fascinating and beautiful as I do and that we are all interconnected. And oh yes. . . earthworms do help us grow things in our gardens.