This past week I inadvertently acquired a pound of pet. That is to say, the acquisition itself was entirely intentional: I made the purchase upon mature reflection. It was the pet part I hadn’t counted on.

What I had in mind was a practical solution to the unfortunate fact that the county I live in does not collect compostibles separately from the garbage destined for landfill. I was looking for a way to stop padding the trash with my apple cores, tea bags, and broccoli skins. However, I’m acquainted with the drawbacks of a compost heap, not the least of which is the fact that you have to start gardening to get rid of your own product. So I ordered a worm bin instead, worms included, figuring I could probably get my friends and my land-lady to take the less voluminous castings off my hands.

I set up my bin—all good. I prepare the bedding and add some food—still good But the moment I start opening the worm package, a rather ponderous little cube delivered into my hands by the USPS, it hits me. What if they are dead? They could all have died in transit. Something extremely unpleasant could be waiting to waft up to me when I snip the plastic snag that holds the bag shut.

When I think about it, sending wrigglers in the mail doesn’t seem right. Does the postal service even approve of it? Do the little creatures not need air? And what if some postal employee plays football with the package?

As a matter of fact, even if they haven’t died, something extremely unpleasant could be waiting to waft up to me when I snip the plastic snag that holds the bag shut. I have never yet beheld a pound of red wrigglers in a bag, but it is beginning to dawn on me it won’t be nearly as cute as a litter of puppies, say. Even in the best of circumstances, opening the bag is not an extremely appealing prospect.

Come to think of it, what if they are alive? That would mean they can die any time afterwards and then whatever they shed—blood? ichor? goo?—will be on my hands. I consult the instructions and find that many things can go wrong with worms. Too much food. Too much moisture. Not enough moisture. Too much trauma, even, because, according to my helpful booklet, worms don’t actually like to be in the mail.

I flash on the high school genetics project, many years ago, in which my fruit flies, also arriving in the mail, promptly mired themselves in the sky-blue cereal I had carefully prepared for them, according to instructions. Under my care, they died a miserable death despite their notorious ability to survive all efforts to eradicate them. Things don’t necessarily bode well for a pound of live worms.

Here I am, then, on the horns of a dilemma, on the cusp of a new life as a worm owner. I am definitely hoping they are alive. Or am I? If they are alive, then I will have to make arrangements to have them taken care of next time I go on a trip. I didn’t think of that beforehand. When doing well, I read in my helpful booklet, the population doubles in size in about a month’s time. I didn’t think of that either. Maybe I am actually hoping they are dead.

Anyhow, I take a deep breath, snip, peek in the bag, and stare at nothing. Just a bunch of dirt. No wrigglers. No odor. I gingerly overturn the whole thing on the bedding, and a giant ball of wrigglers, wriggling furiously, reveal themselves to my horrified eyes and promptly roll, en masse, to the very edge of the bin and start to topple over.They are most definitely not dead. Whatever else it is I may be hoping, I certainly hope not to have to pick the wrigglers off my living-room floor one by one. I intervene with my serving spoon and get them back into bed. I try to spread them around a little, so they can’t repeat their caper.

Apart from spooning them into place, it seems there’s little I can do for them at the moment. I am advised to lift up the lid in three day’s time to see if all is well. That leaves me still on the horns of my dilemma: does “all is well” mean dead or alive?


4 Responses to “Dilemma”

  1. 1 Lauren
    March 6, 2008 at 7:21 am

    *dies laughing*

  2. March 27, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Marijke –

    I can just picture you hovering over this unanticipated “pet”. Your post, as I imagine you intended, points out the nuances of making purchases, owning things, having a problem “solved”. Having just moved into a smaller home, but still feeling impulses to buy things casually, I caught myself the other day almost buying a new coffee maker because I didn’t have time to go to get my current one from storage.

    Even inert things become like pets, to do a degree, no? Reminds me of a poem by M.S.Merwyn :


    At the approach of winter we are there.
    Better than friends, in your sorrows we take no pleasure,
    We have none of our own and no memory but yours.
    We are the anchor of your future.
    Patient as a border of beggars, each hand holding out its whole treasure,

    We will be all the points on your compass.
    We will give you interest on yourself as you deposit yourself with us.
    Be a gentleman: you acquired us when you needed us,
    We do what we can to please, we have some beauty, we are helpless.
    Depend on us.


  3. March 28, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Definitely, buying things is fun. Owning things (especially living things) isn’t nearly as straightforward. There are some things I’m glad I have. But I certainly have more things than I am glad to have. I’m inclined to think that as a species that originally evolved to survive by hunting and gathering, rather than earning a paycheck, we’re probably pre-programmed to acquire stuff. At least, that is the only rational explanation I can come up with for what strikes me as often pretty irrational behaviors.

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