Amicus humani generis, friend of the human race. Photo by the author. Permission is needed for the publication.

There is a misunderstanding about earthworm in the old scriptures. Many people believe worms as expression of lust, covetousness, greed, selfishness, destruction, putrefaction, weakness, and humiliation. Most of them referred to the larva of beetles (grubs) or larva of moths (caterpillars) as pests and larva of flies (maggots) which eat directly the fresh flesh. Everything is considered disgusting because it is related to death.

In fact, all earthworms are saprovore or decomposer and they love dirt! The nutrition they eat comes from things in soil and compost, such as decaying roots, leaves and other organic wastes. In symbiotic mutualism or friendly relationship way, they eat living microorganisms such as protozoans, bacteria, and fungi in soil to be able the beneficial soil microorganisms to thrive and the plants to grow better with the additional humus layer produced by earthworms.

In the book: Opening the Door of Your Heart: And Other Buddhist Tales of Happiness (2005), Ajahn Brahm mentioned that worms are in a dirty, low-level place that need to be saved. On the other hand, saving the worms can be considered waste time and full of risk because they think worms can bring contamination and they are dirty. Actually, salvation that is forced often shows arbitrariness and useless. Especially if the worms are happy in their habitat. Salvation is full of mystery and can be fierce.

The one of the fiction stories about earthworm started from here. There are two monks who have lived together in a monastery for years; they are good friends. Then they are getting older and died almost at the same time. One of them was reborn in the heavenly realm, the other one was reborn as a worm in a pile of dung.

The monk in heaven who is very happy and enjoying all the pleasures of heaven begin to think of his friend. “I want to know where my old friend is.” He observes all the heavenly realms and does not find any trace of his friend. Then he observes the human realm, but he does not find any trace of his friend there either. So, he looks in the animal kingdom and then lowest-level creatures on the ground.

Finally, he finds his fellow monk while in the world, reborn as a worm in a pile of dung … Wow! He thinks: “I can help my friend, sure, I will go there to that pile and bring him to the heavenly realm so that he can also enjoy the heavenly pleasures and happiness of living in this beautiful realm.”

Then he goes to the pile of poop and calls his fellow. And the little worm stretches and says, “Who are you?”. “I am your friend.” But the worm says, “Go away, you are lost!” “I am your old friend, I live in the heavenly world”, and he describes the beautiful heavenly world to him. The worm says, “No thanks, I’m quite happy here in my pile of poop. Please just go.”

Then because of the influence of the heavenly mind, the ex-monk thinks: “Well, I’ll just grab him and take him to heaven, so he can immediately see by himself.” So, he grabs the worm and begins to pull it towards him; and the harder he pulls, the harder the worm sticks to the pile of excrement.

One hundred eight times the deva (in Zoroastrianism deva means evil) tries to lead the “poor worm” out from his miserable dung pile, but the worm is so attached to his lovely pile of dung that he always wriggles back! Eventually, the deva has to go back up to heaven and leaves the “foolish worm” to his lovely pile of dung as infinite and renewable resource.

Worms are a metaphor of guilt. The guilt that departed souls experience when they leave this world. The worms indicate the pain that the deaths go through, leading to suffering after death. Moreover, historical religious events have been told in the Abrahamic (descendants of Abraham) religions using worms as the main cause behind them.

In the real world, earthworms are friend of the human race, amicus humani generis that most people, farmers, breeders, and scientists understand and have proven their role in soil fertility, as a bioindicator of soil productivity, and in resource waste management including protein production. Once it was reported by the National Geographic magazine that earthworms are the most influential species of all evolution on earth. They may save us, save this planet through the healthy soil.

-Bintoro Gunadi

It was a great pleasure to share this idea with the staff from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Compost Facility, and the director of Cornell Waste Management Institute at the Cornell University, Ithaca NY last month. Also for the tour to see all possibilities to exchange the experience,

My first visit at the large compost facility abroad was at the waste management company at VAM (Vuil Avfoer Maatchappij) in the Netherlands in Summer at the end of the last millennium. I was impressed with the waste transportation by train operated by the company from the towns directly to the facility, control system for monitoring the processes of composting, and thousands seagull birds at the compost facility. Seagulls can be used as a bioindicator during the early stage of the decay of the organic material can still be used as food to create the energy for them before doing a long migration facing the Winter. As far as the composting facility is not nearby the airport, the high density of the bird traffic may not disturb the human air traffic.

One of the largest birds of prey in North America is the bald eagle. It is very beautiful with the plumage of an adult with dark brown, white head and tail, and bright yellow beak and claws. Most of the bird watchers will enjoy much to watch the bald eagle, unfortunately in nature they always fly high and stay at the highest tree. It was found that the bald eagles stay nearby the compost facility during the winter and become tame. They enjoy the warm climate and abundance food at the compost facility. It was reported recently by CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), during the Winter almost 800 bald eagles were counted on a single day at the composting facility in Delta, British Columbia. They keep warming and feasting on organic scraps and seagulls instead of salmon.

The most amazing story is about the bird that make a compost pile. In Australia, there is a bird called the brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) that builds large nests made of leaves, other composting material, and dirt. They build compost pile to incubate their eggs so that they will not have to sit on them. The heat produced by the microbial decay maintains the eggs at about 33 – 35°C or about 15°C warmer than the ambient air temperature. Because each nest generates more than 20 times the heat production of a resting adult brush-turkey, many more eggs can be incubated this way than if they relied on warmth from the parent birds. Male brush-turkey builds the compost pile on shady areas beneath trees (about 80% shade) to attract the female to lay eggs that can be up to 24 eggs per mating season.

Each nest can be 1 to 1.5 meters high and up to 4 across meters. The largest brush-turkey’s nests were on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, where the average mound measures about 12.7 cubic meters and weighs about 6,800 kg. Scientists have constructed a computer model using data on mound size, ambient temperature, and the nest’s rate of heat production, water content, dry density, and thermal conductivity. The model predicts that as little as 1 cm of litter added to the mound will raise the core temperature about 1.5°C. Experiments indicate that the composting nests require (1) a critical mass of fresh litter (about 3,000 kg), (2) sufficient water content (more than 0.2 ml/g dry material), and (3) occasional mixing of the litter. This bird is clever by instinct and doing.

Nature gives a chance and everything. The Australian brush-turkey checks the temperature by sticking its beak into the compost pile. The temperature of the pile is regulated by adding or removing material to maintain the temperature in optimum. Like in some reptiles, incubation temperature will affect the sex ratio of chicks. It was reported that the sex ratio in brush turkeys is equal at the incubation temperature of 34°C, but results in more males when cooler and more females when warmer. Whether the parents use this phenomenon to manipulate the sex of their offspring by selecting the nesting site accordingly is still unclear.

The photo is courtesy of Esther Beaton, Australian Geographic. A pair of brush-turkey female (left) and male (right) on the compost pile.

It seems that we can use the warm climate and leftover resource specially during the Winter time to create the rest energy at the compost facility for other purposes. It is not only for the organic waste management and producing the compost, but also for producing beneficial soil microbes and protein such as single cell protein, bird protein, and worm protein in the near future.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Forgetting is a natural process, it is impossible to be resisted if it’s time to forget. Forgetting once is human as long as you don’t forget too often. The worst is three types of forgetting: First, if we pretend to forget. Second, it’s hard to forget something that is less pleasing to us. And third is forgeting everything due to neurocognitive or degeneration disorder such as Alzheimer disease, which causes dementia syndrome in more than 60 – 80% of the elderly.

One of the traditional medicines or supplements to fight forgetfulness is Ginkgo biloba. There are two different approaches of using Ginkgoes in Eastern and Western medical literature. The medicinal uses Ginkgo extracts mainly using the seeds in the East, and mainly the leaves in the West. It is well known that these herbs can be used to restore a better memory. Although it has not been clinically proven yet, many people try the Ginkgo extracts, and there are those that are suitable to get the benefits.

Ginkgo biloba is good for two choices of fighting forgetfulness. It seems that the Ginkgo extract is a kind of placebo, a kind of treatment just for pleasure that is more psychologically useful (mental suggestion) than physiologically (bodily functions). The plant tree has existed since two hundred million years ago since the Permian geological period, at the same age with dinosaurs. The remaining plants are more than two thousand years old and are often called living plant fossils because of the disease resistance and long life. Taking Ginkgo biloba extract is more to appreciate this plant, to thin the blood, and if it is suitable it will not cause allergy like itching. Who knows that it will be useful for some of the believers in alternative medicine?

What is very difficult to forget is the smell of female plant flowers (ovules) which fall out of a very smelly, smell like vomit. Male plant flowers (cones) smell neutral and need for pollination. Ginkgo seeds taste good when boiled. If the raw is not processed the seeds are very poisonous because they contain neurotoxins. They look a bit like a pistachio. There are records of the seeds eaten by dogs, badgers, squirrels and others, and they do not feel good afterward, so they vomit. This must be part of a dispersal system of the Ginkgo seeds. Recently there are more likely some mammals died because eat too much the Ginkgo seeds. There is a hypothesis that the Ginkgo seeds smell would have attracted dinosaurs to eat it because it is nutritious like meat.

Every time I was under Ginkgo tree, whether male or female, young or old, I always remember that Ginkgo tree has been passing the long natural selection exposed by the natural harsh weather during the earlier development of earth since many generations and they can survive well until now. Learning from the resilience of Ginkgo biloba, hope that we can pass the climate change, to be strong like a Ginkgo tree with disease and pollution resistances, high adaptation, and long life.

As we are approaching the end of this year, we must not forget that the climate change is getting worse for the sustainability of the young generation. The climate change can affect on earth’s geophysical (e.g. global warming, swift of the magnetic field, extreme or unpredictable weather, earthquakes, etc.), geochemistry (e.g. ozone depletion, drinking water depletion, increasing environmental hazard, etc.), biological (e.g. loss of biodiversity, global spread of infectious diseases, migration, foods shortage, decreasing soil fertility, etc.), ecological system (e.g. floods, drought, forest fires, crops and farms availability, change in land-use, etc.), and disruption of the polar vortex at the earth’s atmosphere that cause cold-snap, tropical cyclone, any kind of storms but not the Winter storm.

Sure, that the Ginkgo tress passed the survival of the fittest against climate change in the past and will survive in the future, but human may suffer seriously if we do not take any action seriously.

The photo above was taken by the author at the Ginkgo Avenue, Hongo campus University of Tokyo. The symbol of the university is a pair of the Ginkgo leaves, from the trees found throughout the area.

-Bintoro Gunadi

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