Birds and Worms

An essay by James A Graves, Jr.


We moved to Payson, which is just south of the Mogollon Rim, in June of 2015.  I like the climate of the Arizona Rim Country but had never lived up here and I was looking forward to experiencing the mild summers, distinct seasons and possibility of snow. 


The house hadn’t been lived in for quite some time, so there was a lot to do, but I was anxious to begin work on the neglected yard and embark on my pitiful version of landscaping.  By all reports the winter of 2014 had been a wet one, so there were a lot of weeds, but the two mature apple trees had shown their appreciation of the unexpected rainfall by producing an abundance of apples. 


By the end of summer the limbs were breaking from the weight of the apples.  The crabapples taste awful, but the regular apples (they look like Fuji’s to me, but I’m no expert) are delicious.  However, a person can eat, bake and give away just so many apples.  By October I had large mounds of crabapples and a large pile of the big apples raked up around the base of their respective trees with no idea what to do with them – and apples tend to get a bit smelly as they rot.

So, I decided to fill the trash service container and let them haul off the crabapples.  Despite making the container almost too heavy to move, I filled it up twice and still had mounds of apples.  Then I had the idea to put tree rings around each apple tree and fill the rings with the rotting apples which would eventually become a rich mulch that would benefit the trees.


As I worked in the yard & garden, raking leaves, digging weeds and planting, I would find a lot of large, fat worms (night crawlers I assumed).  So I decided to put all the worms that I found in the mulch beneath the apple trees, hoping to create worm beds.  I relocated dozens of worms. 


Autumn of 2015 was beautiful, painted with colors from golden yellows to flaming reds by our maples and oaks. Winter brought snow and a white Christmas.  The spring of 2016 brought an explosion of new growth, including tulips that we didn’t know were there, and many other flowers, both planted and wild, and a pair of robins, apparently returning to the Rim Country to spend the summer.


I love birds, especially colorful songbirds like the American Robin.  They are a joy to see and hear and a welcome sight when they arrive.  In Florida, robins arrive in early autumn, signaling the end of the hot, humid southeastern summer and the arrival of cooler temps and lower humidity of fall and winter.  The robins’ arrival in the Arizona High Country in early spring signals the end of a long winter and the beautiful spring and summer weather to come.


In early summer, as I planned a fishing trip, I dug in my impromptu worm beds, expecting to find fat night crawlers for fish bait, but instead, I found nothing.  So I just assumed they had night-crawled away and gave up on the idea of worm beds for the moment, thinking maybe I’d revisit the idea later on.  Well, summer came and went, flying by like the leaves swept by the autumn breeze.  Winter quickly followed and it seemed that Christmas was barely over when the spring of 2017 arrived.


As I went about my spring cleaning yard work I was delighted to see a pair of robins in the yard foraging for food and singing in the trees.  I hoped that it was the same pair from the previous year, but nevertheless, their arrival made it official—spring was here and summer was just around the corner.


An American Robin in the back yard, May 2017, standing on a tree ring.


One day I watched as one of the robins hopped along, foraging in the grass near my apple trees.  It would pause briefly, peck at the ground a few times and then pluck out a fat, wiggling night crawler.  Within the span of a few minutes that bird found and ate four large worms.  And, digging with a potato rake, I couldn’t find one single worm in either of my two “worm beds”.  Obviously I need to leave the worm digging to the robins, forget my worm bed idea, and get my worms at the bait shop.


I also discovered that the pair of robins had built a nest in the maple tree near the back porch.  Hopefully, we’ll see young robins soon.  And maybe they’ll be back next spring, no doubt searching for more worms—just not in my worm beds.


©2017 James A Graves, Jr.

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