“Things will never be the same, but her legacy is a beautiful garden near the playground.”
Due to my involvement for three weeks as a juror in a death penalty trial (see “Life Sentence”) I was unable to schedule my last worm class at Acequia Madre Elementary until this morning. As a review for new readers and inspired by my sister’s experience with worm farming, I wrote a book called The Red Wriggler Teaching Manual, which was designed to teach math, science, social studies, and language arts with the help of the composting worm. For five years, I have been working with this material in the class of Ms. Barbara McCarthy, who retired today.
In my last post on this matter (see “Worm Day”) I explained that on the last day of class I would read a story the students had helped develop called “The Prince and the Dirty Kingdom.” I gave them the general outline, and after much discussion, they gave me the names of the three princes who would compete for the hand of Princess Claire. They also came up with two unsatisfactory ideas for disposing of garbage so that the prince who knew about composting worms would win. In gratitude for her hospitality, I gave Barbara a puppet of a raven, her favorite bird.
The students ended the session by decorating boxes I gave them in which they would place the notebooks they had been working on all year and the story of “The Prince and the Dirty Kingdom.” My hope is that they will keep the story as a treasure to be shared with family and friends–and eventually their own children.
Barbara provided me with a wonderful experience at Acequia Madre, and she has been loved by everyone. Things will never be the same, but her legacy is a beautiful garden near the playground. Fruits, vegetables, and flowers grow luxuriantly there due, at least in part, to the compost emerging from piles populated by the red wriggler. And now for the story:
THE PRINCE AND THE DIRTY KINGDOM
By Ms. Barbara McCarthy’s Last Third Grade Class
Once upon a time, there was a king who had two huge problems. One was that it was time for his beautiful daughter, Princess Claire, to marry, and he had to find the perfect husband for her. The other problem was that his kingdom was a mess, and he needed to find a way to clean it up.
There was a market within the castle walls where people came to buy all their fruits and vegetables and loaves of fresh-baked bread. And when things wouldn’t sell because they were wilted or bruised or were going a little soft, they would be dumped outside the castle gates, and there they would rot.
The people also had a terrible habit of throwing their garbage out the window, and it too would rot on the sidewalks where it fell. Then there were the roads covered with horse, goat, cow, and sheep manure. No one thought it was their responsibility to sweep it up, so it lay where it fell.
This was happening all over the kingdom, and as I said, it was a mess. Flies were swarming everywhere, and rats frolicked in the garbage piles. People would slip and fall on the manure when it rained, and so they had to wash their clothes way too often. They were also sick a lot.
But the worst thing of all was the smell. The fine ladies of the kingdom drenched themselves in perfume, and the fine men walked around holding scented handkerchiefs to their noses. The poor people simply cried with frustration because they couldn’t hold their noses as they went about their daily chores, swatting at the flies.
Deeply troubled by this problem, the king decided to kill two birds with one stone. He gathered around him a dozen of his best knights and told them to travel around the kingdom on their warhorses to tell the news: He would give his beautiful daughter in marriage to the prince who came up with the best idea for solving his garbage problem.
And further, he announced that the magician Merlin would help him make his decision. Merlin, as you know, was kind of a genius, and so the king trusted him to say what was wrong with an idea and what was right. Together the king and Merlin would decide who would wed the beautiful Princess Claire.
So the word went out throughout the land, and the princes everywhere thought and thought and thought, because the king’s daughter was known to be very sweet as well as beautiful. And finally the day came when just three princes, all dressed in their most elegant clothes and riding on prancing horses, approached the stinking castle walls.
And now listen closely as I tell you all about the three princes and their ideas and how one—the most intelligent of all—won the hand of Princess Claire.
On the day of the contest, the three princes dismounted from their magnificent horses and walked on foot to the great hall. There the king sat on his throne with Princess Claire on his right and Merlin the magician standing at his left. Princess Claire wore a gown of pale pink; Merlin was dressed in a black velvet robe with gold stars embroidered on the hem; and the king was garbed in royal purple as usual.
The first prince stepped forward in a brown tunic and tights that went very nicely with his blond hair and hazel eyes. The tunic was tailored expertly, but the fashion in prince clothes had changed, and he looked a little dated.
He bowed and said, “I’m honored to be here, Your Highness, and my name is Prince Rotmen. I am delighted to bring you an idea that will transform your kingdom. My idea is that you should compost all the garbage in your kingdom.”
Merlin lifted his hand and rubbed his chin. “Well, thank you Prince Rotmen, but actually we’re already doing that with our garbage. No one ever moves it, and it just lies where it falls, composting away.”
“Well,” said Prince Rotmen, “you can just continue doing that, only now everyone will know it’s composting.”
“I don’t think so,” said Merlin. “The king sent out a call for a new idea, not an old idea that is as out of date as your costume. I would suggest that you withdraw and give this some more thought.”
Abashed, the prince dipped his head and bowed, and as he did so, his worn-out tights ripped and all the ladies giggled as he fled the hall.
The next prince hurried forward, his red hair streaming behind him. His costume was rust-colored, which was very becoming; and over his tights he wore orange running shorts, which had become fashionable in his kingdom.
“My name is Prince Walky-Walky,” he said hurriedly, “and I have the perfect solution.” He stepped in place, elbows swinging like a runner pausing at a street light. “I suggest that you just pick up and leave. Move your kingdom to a nice, clean place that has no garbage. Start over, you know?”
The king seemed to like this idea and looked at Merlin inquiringly. Merlin’s white eyebrows came together in a troubled way, and he stroked his beard with a thoughtful hand. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You want the royal family to vacate their castle, and all the people to leave their homes and farms and just strike out, looking for a new place to live.”
“Right,” said Prince Walky-Walky, excited that Merlin was getting the point.
“And then when we arrive at wherever, we just set about building a new castle and new homes and farmers will go about the business of cutting down trees, removing boulders from the land, and tilling it for the first time.”
The prince nodded in agreement.
“Do you understand how long that would take?” asked Merlin, and his voice was becoming tight with anger. “We have lived here for hundreds of years. It takes at least 85 years to build a castle. What will we use for shelter in the meantime? What will we eat? And all the while we’ll be making garbage that we have no place to put.” He glared at the prince.
“Well,” the prince began, and his legs fell still as he tried to think.
Merlin would not wait. “This is the stupidest idea I could ever imagine, but I have a wonderful one for you. I think you should take a walky-walk.” He raised his hand and pointed at the door of the great hall and thundered, “Go!” And Prince Walky-Walk did.
A feeling of hopelessness had begun to develop when the third and final prince entered the hall. He was dressed all in red, and his brown eyes and hair were the color of dark, rich soil. His shoulders were broad, and his expression flashed with humor and intelligence.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said as he bowed. “I am Prince Gummy Worm,” he said, and the fine ladies all tittered behind their hands.
“It’s because he’s so sweet,” they whispered.
Prince Gummy Worm reached into the pocket of his deep red tunic and withdrew a handful of dark matter, which he held before him as he approached the king. All the knights in the hall immediately drew their swords and prepared to attack if need be. However, the king, Princess Claire, and Merlin merely leaned forward to stare at the prince’s outstretched hand.
“Here we have the Red Wriggler,” said the prince. “This creature finds nothing in the world so delicious as garbage, and that garbage comes out of its bottom as black gold, the most wonderful fertilizer on this earth.”
The king, Princess Claire, and Merlin all stared at the squirming mass that had begun to emerge, and then suddenly, Merlin clapped his hands in delight.
“This is brilliant? Just brilliant!” he exclaimed. “I have heard of these creatures.”
But the King sat back, unconvinced. “But where do we get these Red Wrigglers? How much of my own gold will I have to spend to acquire them? This sounds like a very expensive proposition.”
“Not at all. Not at all,” said Merlin. “Your kingdom is already full of these worms. They live underneath the dairies and the stables and the garbage piles. All we have to do is dig them up and distribute them to each of your subjects, who will feed them their own garbage in bins. The manure on the roads will be like pearls they pick up to add to their treasure, and the garbage will compost eight times as fast as it does without the worms.
“This is genius, pure genius,” he went on, and he began to dance in delight. “The garbage will disappear, and we can plow the black gold into the fields. The crops will be better than ever, the air will be fresh and clean, rats and flies will disappear, and you will be richer than ever.”
Merlin could contain himself no longer, and he lunged forward and hugged the prince, who spilled worms all over the floor. This caused Princess Claire to leap off her throne and rush to rescue the little creatures. As she gently put them back into the prince’s hands, their eyes met, and they fell in love.
You know how the story ends. Princess Claire and Prince Gummy Worm married and proceeded to create a green, beautiful, and healthy kingdom. And the worms were so well-fed and so much appreciated that they made many baby worms, and they all lived happily ever after.