Inchworms, Beach Worms, and Darwin

The best days are those that allow a long, thoughtful ramble in the warm summer air, but real life doesn’t always allow for such physical and mental perambulations. Today, I am settling for mostly “armchair” naturalist excursions—I grabbed what nature books I could stuff into my work bag, knowing I’d have a little interval between errands to flip through them.

Try this some time–pick up 3 random books on a subject you love and see if you can not find something in each that delights. For me, the first pick was a Golden Guide, not much bigger than my outstretched hand, to Butterflies and Moths. How many years have I been using the term “inchworm”–during my own childhood and later during countless forays into nature with children I taught or babysat, and eventually including my own child? Only today did I learn the more formal term: it is “geometer”—translating to “earth measurer”. And what knower of inchworms and lover of discovery couldn’t cherish the specifics of these descriptions: “UNADORNED CARPET is commonly seen in the larval stage in nests of wild cherry leaves…CURRANT SPANWORM is a pest of currant and gooseberry.” Who could begrudge these earth measurers their fine, colorful, and fruity choices, even if they do turn out to be pests to the farmer and gardener?

I chuckled at the silliness and synchronicity that greeted me when I randomly flipped the next book open: The top of page 51 in The Outer Lands, a natural history guide to local New York and lower New England coasts, told me that “Worms Can Be Beautiful” when “viewed without prejudice,” further flattering the reader by adding “they are only lowly when compared to the readers of this book, but their bodies and behavior are admirably adapted to the tidal world in which they live.” The author extols the iridescence of the clam worm, the castings of the lugworm, and the parchment worm’s homey residential tube. Would that I had a shovel and another hour and I’d be out on a nearby beach in Old Lyme, worming.

It was the comic book version that finally got me to read, at least in some approximate way, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. This was the third and final book I got to peruse over coffee, and was a fitting followup to all of the gushing over the marvelousness of worms. I’ve never understood why some feel that a belief in evolution must negate a belief in God–couldn’t a higher power have caused it all to happen? I’m no expert on Darwin or creationism, but phrases like these lead me to think that Darwin had faith in something more than the increasingly upright ape (in the comic book, these words fall below colorful depictions of skeletons alongside full-fleshed animals–the scaffolds and the engineered marvels they support):

Can we wonder then, that Nature’s productions should be far ‘truer’ in character than man’s productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?

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