There is a hole burrowed in the earth at his feet. If he hadn’t have been watching for dog shit – which walkers in these woods do not seem so eager to pick up, or to at least instruct their canine charges to deposit in less foot-friendly places – he wouldn’t have noticed it. Now, though, now he can’t stop looking at it. It perplexes him, has triggered something too-long latent in his mind. The desire to investigate. The desire to know.
It is less than a centimetre wide, this hole, and it has crumbs of dry dirt littered evenly around its circumference. His first thought is that it looks exactly like it has been drilled. The dirt crumbs are like the fine spatterings of sawdust that gather around the edges of a drillhole made in a doorframe. But that doesn’t make much sense. Why would it be drilled? Who would drill it? Why here?
Looking around himself, backwards and forwards along the path, down the slope beside the path towards the park where other, hopefully more conscientious dog-walkers tread, he decides it is safe to crouch down for a closer look. He does so, sitting back on his haunches until the tops of his calves start to hurt. He peers at the hole, but it is so dark, like a dot drawn on with a thick-tipped marker, that he cannot make out the thread-pattern of a drill-tip, or of anything else. Reaching out towards the hole, he contemplates tearing a bit of the topsoil away, to see if the structure is rendered more accessible and understandable by that action. However, he is fearful that, with the hole being so small, and, in an odd way, delicate looking, such a movement might collapse it, ruining all hope of uncovering its secrets. And he does not want to disturb that curiously symmetrical ring of crumbled-up dirt.
After a few minutes he stands, begins to set off once again down the path, thinking that he probably shouldn’t risk being caught staring at the ground in such a manner. It didn’t do to act too weird in public, not in a small village like this, and certainly not without the influence of alcohol with which to excuse one’s behaviour.
But he cannot bring himself to forget the hole. Still toying with the drill theory, he considers the possibility that it marked the spot where some local student had come to take a soil sample. It looked like the work of some piece of technical equipment, and so that could well be the case. Though, he doesn't know why anyone would come here to take a soil sample.
Perhaps it was a worm burrowing for the surface, he thinks now, brain slightly disappointed at having come to so boring a possible conclusion as soil-sampling, edging off in different directions. That makes him think about the dirt itself, and how dry and tough it is, having gone without rain for over a week as it has. Makes him consider how strong a worm must have to be in order to burrow through it.
He has never really given much time to contemplating earthworms, he realises. To recognising their abilities, their strengths, their dirt-loving quirks. If he had, then maybe he would be able to tell for certain if that was the sort of hole they were liable to make when reaching the surface. The only thing about that was, surely an earthworm would have disturbed the ring of crumbs at the hole’s edge? Maybe not. Maybe the worm had been burrowing downwards, throwing the dust out behind and leaving it patterned just so on the surface.
It was definitely possible, he thinks, as the path began to wend amongst a more compacted copse of trees. Oaks. Oaks and the occasional Ash. With worms on his mind, though, he starts to get the jitters – only mild ones, he supposed, but jitters nonetheless – when he catches sight of protruding treeroots out the corners of his eyes. He skips over some of them, not looking down now.
He has begun to imagine earthworms blown up to a ginormous size, quite out of the blue, and is drawing pictures in his mind of the way they might be tunnelling throughout the hillside, hollowing it out, bit by bit. So prompted, he recalls a few sunken pockets of earth, probably six feet wide, that he and his friends used to play in, at the bottom of the slope, leading out onto the park. He laughs at himself for letting this odd fantasy take his brain so far, but the memory feels good. He turns to look down towards them, picking them out through newly-budding trees. What if? he thinks, allowing his mind to linger and swing around the question mark, before laughing at himself again, quietly. It was easier to know things for certain when he was younger, he thinks, and gets back to walking.