The worm and the world

Alanna Mitchell reports in the New York Times that boreal forests in the world’s north are being invaded by worms of the species Dendrobaena octaedra. They’re decomposing the leaf litter and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, transforming these carbon-negative forests into carbon-positives. In the process, they’re also disrupting climate models that scientists had prepared to understand how climate catastrophe might pan out in these areas. There’s no question that any of this is a disaster; it certainly is.

If I had written this story, I would have been very tempted to mention Nidhogg, the worm gnawing at one of the roots of Yggdrasil, the sacred tree of Norse mythology, to bring on the end of the world. This root is placed over a hot spring called Hvergelmir in Niflheim, a place of ice and cold, akin to the climate in Alberta and Alaska, where the worms have been found (the place of fire is called Muspelheim); Nidhogg lives within the spring. According to the Völuspá, which describes the creation myths of Old Norse mythology, Nidhogg’s arrival to the surface after breaking through Yggdrasil’s root signals Ragnarök, the Nordic apocalypse.

I’m sure others would have thought of this extended metaphor as well and probably decided against using it because it doesn’t add anything to the narrative and it doesn’t help make the story easier to digest anymore than it already is. Further, the addition – in India at least – would likely have drawn the ire of an entranced bhakt who can’t tell the difference between light-hearted allegory and full-blown prophecy, insisting that some Vedic text already knew of the worms before anyone else. It’s the sort of idiocy that easily beats the joy of curiosity, so it’s best kept to oneself, at least until the pall of gloom that many of us seem to be under passes.