Land Healing in Small Ways: Showing Care and Concern for Life

Ever since I was little, I have always felt connected with the earthworms in the rainstorms. They come out to bask and enjoy the rain, slithering through puddles, and turning their faces into the warm rain. But modern life is not kind to worms: each rainstorm is deadly. Sidewalks and pavement can turn into dry deserts and human feet who pay no attention can trod them underfoot. The worms could use a little care.

Picture of a rainbow after a wet rain
Here come the rains–and a rainbow of hope!

Thus, I have always spent time gently moving the earthworms off the sidewalk during rainstorms. Regardless of where I was, when I was, or who I was with, I have always took time to carefully pick up the worms in my hand and move them deep into the grass where they might not crawl back on so easily. I would say to them, “Friend, be lucky you met a druid today.” When I was a child, my mother would patiently wait while I did this with a smile on her face.  Now, on the campuses I’ve been on for most of my adult life, I continue my small act of care and kindness for the worms during each warm, rainy day. If other people are around, they stare at me like I was crazy, but I refuse to stop.

Just this last week, we had a lot of warm rains and the worms were out. I took time to remove each crawling worm on my path to my office on campus. I smiled at the worms, telling them I was happy they were here, and asking them not to crawl on the sidewalks again. That act of kindness brought joy to the landscape.

People look at you strangely as you pick the worms off of sidewalks.  Sometimes I get questions–most often where I live, people think I’m picking up the worms to use as bait for fishing.  I just look at them and say “Everything deserves to live and have care and kindness.”  They often laugh, shaking their heads. I don’t really care. This isn’t about them.  This is about the worms.  But sometimes, someone stops and really thinks about what I am saying.  I encourage them to step carefully.

The sad part of this story is that there are so many worms crawling over so many sidewalks. Even if I spent all day, I could not possibly remove them all before they were stepped on–they just keep on crawling out. As in the case last week, the rains lasted all day, and I removed a second batch of worms from the sidewalks on my way out of campus. But I also noted with sadness, as I do each time, about how many worms had been stepped on and are not even acknowledged. The next morning, the sidewalks had dried, and surveying the damage, I could tell that despite my efforts, many worms still died.  But as I walked, there was just one alive–struggling to get off the dry sidewalk, partially dried out but still fighting.  I grabbed my water bottle and carefully took the worm to a soft patch of soil.  I poured some water on the worm to help perk the worm back up and said a small prayer.  I can never save them all, but to that single worm, my actions saved at worm’s life.  And that’s a difference that matters.

Care through Small Actions

I share the story of the worms because I think it illustrates some important things when it comes to land healing: showing care for life and realizing that even if you can’t save everything, you can save some things and that’s important.  But also, this work often is done among other people and we shouldn’t care what they think.

Care is at the crux of land healing–it is observing the world around us, seeing who could use a little help, and then taking a moment to help. It doesn’t take more than 10 min of my day in the morning to move the worms off of the sidewalk. This is me taking a moment to care for other living beings who are being harmed because the physical structures that humans put in the land for their benefit (concrete sidewalks and parking lots) cause ongoing harm to nature. And of course, most people don’t pay any attention to the worms on the sidewalks and tread right over them on their hurty to get to class or a meeting. The earthworms don’t understand the sidewalks, they are just looking for a drink. By taking time out of my day–each time it happens–to help save some of the worms, I am giving just a bit of care to that larger landscape.

Think about the power of millions of tiny actions just like these–actions that add up when we do them every day, and when many of us start to help.  Tyson Yunkaporta in Sand Talk says that humans’ original role in the world was that of being a custodial species–we are meant to care for other life.  If many of us take the time for even the smallest of things–saving earthworms for example–these can add up.  Its like a drop of care you are bringing into the world each time, filling a bucket that is so terribly empty.

Three cups are broken and spilled, two cups are still held in the tree
Five of Cups from the Tarot of Trees

Part of opening up a heart space to care for the earth is recognizing that all life is valuable, equal, and important. As an animist, I do not see my life as any more valuable or worthy than that of the earthworm. I am equal to all life, and we all have a right to live and be free. Cultivating that belief within myself means I can shift my actions to demonstrate that animist belief when the opportunity arises. Sharing care for other beings doesn’t have to be big or flashy. It can be the smallest of actions, but over time, they ripple and make a big difference. And your care, your love for the earth is so, so needed.

This kind of ongoing care for and for the earth is such a balm in a world that doesn’t even acknowledge such things.  How is it that of a campus of 15,000 people, I’m the only one who I have ever witnessed saving the earthworms and giving them a moment of care? Or why do I seem to be the only one who even pays enough attention to avoid stepping on them all?  Why are people so absorbed in their screens, conversations or busyness that they can’t take a moment to move a worm or avoid stepping on one? This is what I mean–showing care to all life is a gift you can give that few others will even think to consider.

The second thing regarding these small actions of care is the importance of truly not caring about what other people think when you take up the path of care and healing. Anything that is somehow outside of the expected human activity often draws the gaze of other humans. I used to be super surreptitious as I went about these small acts of care, saving the worms on my campus or doing whatever other small acts I could.  These days, I’ve been doing this long enough and am so over the current paradigm of greed and narcissim that I have ceased caring what other people think. And so, I offer my care to the worms, disregarding the gaze of other humans. And sometimes, those curious stares can lead to interesting conversations that get people to think differently about human-nature connections.  And sometimes, they just gawk. Regardless I just go about my business, saving one earthworm at a time.

The third thing in this story is that there are billions of miles of sidewalks and even more billions of earthworms, and I truely can’t save them all. None of us could.  The problem is in the nature of the sidewalk–a permeable sidewalk designed differently could help support both stormwater drainage and save the worms, but that’s not the economical design we see in most places.  Many current systems and infrastructure are designed only with humans in mind, and these designs have a high impact on all other life.

There is so much work out there for all of us who are taking up the path of land healing.  It can be overwhelming–once you have eyes to see, there is just so much need.  Friends–all that you can do is do what you can.  You do what you can and impact the lives you are able. And recognize that more and more people everywhere are embracing a new earth-honoring paradigm and recognizing that things can be better, and different, and we can heal the world through our actions. The Five of Cups card in the Tarot has wisdom here–in many renditions, the person in the card is only paying attention to the three cups spilled on the ground, not the two that they still have full.  Pay attention to the full cups and be grateful that you were able to do what you could.

Update on the Land Healers Network & Land Healing Book

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the wonderful response to my announcement about starting the Land Healer’s Network! I had an overwhelmingly positive response and I’m very grateful. The Facebook group is filling up with wonderful conversations, and we’ll have our first event week on March 20th (see details here). With that said, many people asked if I could put some different dates/times on the calendar for those in other time zones outside of North America.  And so with that, I’ve shifted the schedule around a bit and added some dates.  Here’s the new schedule (and that has also been updated on my page)

Also, if you haven’t had a chance yet to preorder my new Land Healing book, there is still time. The book is available globally at major booksellers (or ask for it at your local bookstore). The release date for NOrth America is March 28th and it releases May 28th internationally.

Thanks so much, everyone–let’s heal this world together, one step at a time.

Updated list of Quarterly Calls for 2024:

The Land Healer’s Network includes quarterly calls that focus on targeted aspects of Land Healing and discuss different approaches. They are entirely free and open to anyone who wants to attend. Each call features an earth healing practice done together, a 20-30 min presentation by Dana O’Driscoll on various aspects of land healing (targeting different chapters of the book), and plenty of time for sharing and open conversation surrounding land healing.  Here are the calls for 2024.

March 20th, 2024 – Inaugural Land Healer’s Network & North American Book Launch – 8:30 – 10pm EST

Land Healer’s Network inaugural call! In this call, we will be Introducing the Land Healing book and land healing framework (Ch 1 from Land Healing), engaging in a land healing meditation, open discussion about things people would enjoy talking about, and the possibilities for the work ahead. The call will include the opportunity to connect with others in healing the earth.

May 26th – Land Healer’s Network & International Book Launch – Land Healing Tools- 2pm-3:30pm EST

Land Healer’s Network – international call and international book launch.  In this call, we’ll be developing working tools as a Land Healer (Ch 2 from Land Healing) and discussing creating a land healer’s crane bag.  This call will allow you to explore the tools and methods you might use for land healing wherever you are.

June 30th – Global Seasonal Land Healing Rituals  – 2pm – 3:30 PM EST

Exploring a set earth healing seasonal rituals that can be performed for healing and blessing of the air, earth, and waterways.  The model we are following is a distributed ritual structure, where many people can join in the rituals from all over the world, individually or in small groups.  This event introduces the global seasonal earth healing rituals, where they came from, how AODA has open-sourced these rituals to invite others to participate, and how to get involved!

September 11th – Land Healer’s Network: Listening, Witnessing and Apology – 8:30-10pm EST

Exploring foundational practices in land healing including deep listening, witnessing, observation, and apology (Chapter 3 of Land Healing).  Open discussions of land healing.  Divination for land healers.

November 10th – Land Healer’s Network: Raising Energy for Blessing and Abundance – 2:00 – 3:30pm EST

Exploring Land Healing through raising energy for blessing and abundance (such as through Wassaililng and ritual work (Chapter 4 of Land Healing); land healing meditation, and open discussions of land healing.

How to Join!

Here’s the Zoom Login info for these Land Healing Calls

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/4512608842?omn=86076754524

Meeting ID: 451 260 8842

One tap mobile
+13092053325,,4512608842# US
+13126266799,,4512608842# US (Chicago)

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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12 Comments

  1. Here in the UK I go out and find neglected churchyard and wildflower forgotten graves with seeds for the bees,I also grow trees from seed and when they are big enough I take them to old neglected hedgerows and plant them, every little thing helps.

    1. I love this, James! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. my first thought was “Thank GOD(s) I’m not the only one that walks around worms and often ends up putting them back in the grass.” people do indeed look at you like you’re nuts.

    1. At least the worms appreciate the love!

  3. I haven’t seen worms on sidewalks in all my years living in Florida. Just suicidal lizards.

  4. Is there any chance the meetings will be recorded and posted somewhere so that those of us who can’t make it live would be able to listen in later? That would certainly be most appreciated as I can already see I have some conflicting engagements but I’m really interested in the Land Healer’s Network.

    1. Yes! I will be sharing the presentations and also the recordings of the workshop portion on Youtube :). I’ll post them on the blog and also in the Facebook Group. I’ll share here also when they’ve been posted.

  5. Thank you for this post—I’ve been ruminating on it. I wonder if the sidewalks involved, the surrounding lawns and the rain itself might also be helpful to engage in this endeavor. More perspectives and allies. And nearby trees! And perhaps the deva of the earthworms? Perhaps you’re not as alone in your concern as it appears.

    I’ve been engaging in dreamwork lately, so I think of what I would do in a lucid dream of this situation. Maybe call in some elementals to redirect the earthworms away from the sidewalk. Maybe place frisbee-size “resting stations” on the lawn where the earthworms could surface away from danger. Maybe make up a song to lead the earthworms to safety. Or call in a tribe of giants to stomp around the humans and give them new perspective on the importance of mindfulness around smaller creatures! 🙂

    On a different note, this also makes me wonder if there are sometimes powerful benevolent forces that go out of their way to pick me up—despite strange looks from others—and move me out of harm’s way. Is there any downside to assuming this as the source of life’s sudden redirects, and allowing gratitude to prevail?

    1. Hi Kendra, Wonderful comment and amazing perspective. THANK YOU!
      I love the idea of singing to the worms and calling up on the deva and even the sidewalks for help. I’ll do this next time it rains and see how it goes.

      And yes..I wonder how many of us get picked up in some way. A wonderful thought for sure.

  6. There is a story (which I try to practice) that illustrates this concept very well: The Starfish Story

    Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

    Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

    The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

    The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

    The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

    ~adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

    1. Hi Mt. Woman! I’ve heard this story before–thank you! This is exactly the same as my worm story! Love it–thanks for sharing :).

  7. Ann Gaidos-Morgan

    I love this! I am an earthworm rescuer as well and never heard of anyone else doing this!

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