Earthworms’ Castings

By Jean Ponzi


I needed some wide elastic to repair the drooping waistband of a summer skirt.

There are no fabric shops left in the City of St. Louis, where I live – a sad lack – but I assumed that any store stocking general sewing notions (in a sewing section, or maybe with craft supplies) would have some elastic. I didn’t want to drive out to the Big Box Hinterlands.

In this efficient spirit, I zipped the nearest Target, while my husband was boosting his memory (!!) at the neighboring computer center.

I asked a group of employees, teenaged girls, “Where would I find sewing notions, please?” One looked apologetic, most looked blank. Nolo comprende notions, mixed with murmured elastic puzzlement. One girl suggested I look for sewing stuff near the irons.

No elastic for sale amid a small array of travel-sized thread and needle kits (how many people buy those, these days?) and only a couple of kinds of irons.
I took a notion that some simple, useful concepts are slipping through our cultural cracks.

I faced this fact again in the opening moments of one of St. Louis summer’s best treats, The Muny. As before every night’s performance in North America’s largest outdoor theater, 11,000 people stood to sing the national anthem. A spotlight hit the stage-right flag, the orchestra played loud and clear, but that massive choir was wimpy. When I stopped warbling for a beat, I couldn’t even hear the words.

Don’t people know this? It isn’t that St. Louisans don’t like to sing. Last time The Muny did “White Christmas,” we all rose and crooned and swayed while theatrical snow drifted out into the seats, caroling the title tune for the show’s big finish. I know the national anthem is musically hard, but isn’t this something everyone learns in school – or not anymore?
Then there’s the issue of phone books becoming a household endangered species. We save friends’ and coworkers’ numbers in our PDAs, so our memories don’t have to stretch to provide them. When you need to call some business or distant acquaintance you can search ‘em out online (unless the power or your server goes down).

But a little kid too small for his chair can’t get a boost toward supper from sitting on Mom’s iPad. And if you compost indoors with worms, what are you going to use for quick-decomposing worm bin bedding if phone book pages turn into history?

Newspapers are at risk too, as readers source daily news online. A laptop won’t paper-train a puppy, or wipe a window free of streaks when you clean with simple, non-toxic vinegar and water. How long ‘til it’s goodbye to The Healthy Planet one day and library books the next? Do we know what we’re on the verge of missing?

Sure, eliminating things like phone books and newsprint will keep some trees standing, although much of these info-sources are now made with recycled-content stock anyway. Today’s paper was recently reborn out of someone’s recycling bin.

I wouldn’t mind outmoding things like nuclear power plants and single-use plastic water bottles, but let’s not lose the lyrics of Our National Anthem, printed reading matter, or the willingness to make repairs with sundry, simple DIY notions.

Jean Ponzi hosts the enviro-talk show “Earthworms” Mondays 7-8 p.m. on FM-88 KDHX; she works for the EarthWays Center of Missouri Botanical Garden.