Bird was singing to the sky when up poked a worm from the ground.
In his surprise, Bird forgot he was a bird. (Birds eat worms, you know.)
“Who are you?” Bird asked.
“Worm,” said the worm.
“I was asking your name,” replied Bird, “Not what you are.”
“I don’t know,” the worm said.
Bird paused a moment to think. “I will call you Wormie.”
“That seems to fit,” agreed Wormie. He sighed.
“What’s wrong?” asked Bird.
“What’s your name?” asked Wormie.
“I am Cardinal,” replied the bird proudly, fluffing his crimson feathers.
“See, that’s my point,” stated Wormie glumly. “You’re CARDINAL!” he said boldly, making his voice deep and impressive. “I’m just wormie, and that’s it, just wormie.”
Cardinal blinked. “Well, huh!” he said in surprise.
“See,” Wormie said, warming to his subject. “You’re bright and bold, and bird watchers look for you. I’m a worm. I dig through dirt and I’m not terribly attractive to most, except fish.” (He didn’t add birds as well, thinking he should keep that fact quiet for now.)
Well, I’m pretty sure worms do important stuff,” Cardinal said thoughtfully. “Let’s go ask Owl. He seems to know everything.”
So Cardinal hopped and Wormie crawled, and after a while they came to a big oak tree with a hole in its trunk, way up high among the branches.
Cardinal trilled a lovely song. They waited. Cardinal and Wormie looked at each other. They waited some more.
“He likes to sleep when the sun shines,” Cardinal explained. “I’ll try again, closer this time.”
Cardinal flew up to a branch near the hole in the trunk and trilled again, louder.
From within the tree sounded scratching and mumbling. After a moment, a large, round bird exited the hole in the trunk with a great fluffing and ruffling of feathers. Large yellow eyes blinked uncomfortably in the sunlight.
“Hello, Owl!” chirruped Cardinal.
“Hurrum—hummmum-hoot!” Owl replied.
“Owl, we have a question for you, if you don’t mind,” Cardinal said nervously, when he saw how grumpy Owl was.
In one smooth movement, Owl turned his head toward Cardinal and blinked.
“Um, yes, well, my friend, Wormie, there,” Cardinal pointed with a wing tip toward the ground, “wants to know what’s special about him. Um, worms, that is.”
Owl squinted, looking toward the ground, blinked again and shuffled his long, clawed talons, making Cardinal quite nervous. Then, Owl cleared his throat.
“Well, worms loosen the dirt, letting air and water in. They break down leaves and things in the soil to help plants use the nutrients.” Owl paused, thinking. “One earthworm can digest and fertilize 36 tons of soil in one year. Worms are important to the health of plants,” Owl finished with an impatient flutter of his tail feathers.
“Oh!” trilled Cardinal, that’s wonderful! Isn’t it Wormie?” Cardinal looked down at Wormie, way below. Wormie looked up at Cardinal, high above.
“Sounds good!” he shouted up. “I guess I really am useful.”
“Yes! Yes, you are!” Cardinal agreed, all aflutter. “Right, Owl?”
“Correct. Everyone has a place in the world.” Owl yawned. “Mine, right now, is back in my nest. Asleep.” With a final ‘harrumph’, Owl shuffled back into his tree.
Cardinal hopped from the branch and swooped down to the ground. He landed with a soft ka-thump next to Wormie, who tried very hard not to flinch. It is rude to flinch at your friend’s arrival, even if he is a bird and you are a worm.
“See!” Cardinal said, with a flourish of his wings. “You are important, just as everyone is!”
Wormie nodded, smiling to himself. “I am,” he agreed, quite pleased.
Just then a fly landed nearby.
“Hi!” Cardinal greeted the newcomer cheerfully.
“Hi,” the fly replied glumly.
“What’s wrong?” asked Wormie.
“Well,” the fly said, with a half-hearted buzz of his wings, “I’ve been feeling really useless lately. Unappreciated. Even…disgusting.”
Wormie and Cardinal looked at each other.
“Do you know anything about flies?” Wormie asked Cardinal.
“No. Do you?” Cardinal asked Wormie.
“No. I didn’t even know anything about worms!” Wormie exclaimed, watching their new friend Fly rub four legs over his big fly eyes.
“Think Owl’s still up?” asked Wormie.
“Maybe,” Cardinal replied uneasily. “But it’s your turn to ask him.”