Exploring new ways of seeing, new ways of being with an open heart and an open mind
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
For the Love of Ants
Like many children I enjoyed watching ants as they created their hills here and there, imagining what lay beneath the surface. No, I didn't have any desire for an ant farm. My sister, Jane, and I had already undertaken the care of two tiny turtles inside an ice cream bucket. We decorated their humble abode with various rocks, kept a bit of water in there for them, fed them flies, and hoped they would come to see it as home. But, even for the tiniest of creatures, home is where the heart is, and this definitely did not measure up. They perished under our less than stellar care, and so trying to contain any living thing inside a very small space had lost its appeal.
Several years later I discovered E. O. Wilson who has spent his life entranced by, among other things, ants. I read his autobiography and it reignited my appreciation for these little beings. I looked at them with wholly new eyes. So, it was not a surprise that I would be presented with an opportunity to witness them in a closer setting, that setting being a park bench in Santa Fe.
I was waiting for a friend and decided to sit on a bench a little further into the park. While doing so, I discovered a dead ant that had either been stepped on by me or another interloper right in front of the bench. I found myself feeling almost bereft at this discovery. I may well have ended this little beings life. I sat and watched and thought and, as I did so, I realized that a line of ants was forming several feet away and was heading in the direction of this now-dead ant. A single line had formed, as they're wont to do, but as they approached a rock (not large, but it may have seemed insurmountable to them), they split off temporarily and moved around the rock in two lines, then reemerged on the other side of the rock as a single line again.
They approached the ant and the line stopped. I watched as five ants circled the dead ant, then moved off to the side, formed a small group and began talking over the situation. No, I couldn't make out what they were saying, but a discussion of sorts was actually taking place as they faced each other. I watched in rapt attention.
These five ants again formed a circle around the dead ant. Then, yet again, another small circle of discussion was held off to the side. Decisions apparently had to be made. Soon, four of the ants moved around the dead ant, positioned themselves, picked up the dead ant, lifted the ant above their shoulders (what can I say? It's how it appeared), and carried him away under the watchful eye of the one ant whom I refer to as the funeral director. Then, the long line of ants (one might assume solemnly, but maybe rejoicing and celebration was in order in their world) followed them back in a single line.
I couldn't move, nor did I want to. I sat there transfixed by what I had witnessed. When my friend showed up I really couldn't even speak of it. It felt as though I had just witnessed something too wonderful for words. But, a couple of days ago a friend mentioned his own love for ants and now it seems like a good time to mention it. It was, after all, a beautiful affirmation of life.
The image, of course, is of dear Mr. Wilson.
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I have an affinity for ants. It doesn't go much beyond the silent agreement I have for the tribe that occasionally raids the cat food dishes. They only come when they are in urgent need of food. They come up from a crack in the cement floor in the kitchen doorway. Sometimes attack a small bit of food a long way from their entrance or just invade the cat food dish. I pick up the food and move it over to their entrance and then put a good supply of canned cat food around it. Amazingly, within minutes, the colony gets the message and the food is covered with workers taking it back home. By the next morning, the food is all gone and so are the ants. I see this as a win-win proposition for all of us. We've been co-existing like this now for over twenty years.ReplyDelete
Janice, This is wonderful! Thank you so much for telling me about it. Co-existing is where it's at. :)Delete
Have to admit a deep dislike for bugs. I'm sorry I'm that way, but other than the occasional lady bug or praying mantis (and of course butterflies), insects freak me out. ESPECIALLY en masse. That said, this is such a wonderful, respectful description of these ants at this time, that I almost wish I'd seen this event. Thank you!ReplyDelete
I've not experienced that deep dislike, but I do hope you can set it aside and see them with new eyes. Bugs are fascinating, and they permeate this world. It's good to get to know those with whom we share the planet, bugs and people. :)Delete
What a touching tribute and memory of what you witnessed while waiting on a park bench. Nature often leaves me in awe as I see such things as ants taking care of their own. Lovely, lovely posting.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Penny. Nature provides us with endless opportunities to just witness. I still think of your description when you and your hubby ran to the window to catch a glimpse of a deer in your yard. No matter how many times we see them, it's as though for the first time. Isn't it fun?Delete
I spent many hours watching ants as a child, but I never had the desire to have an ant farm, either. Seemed cruel to me to force them to live in a slice of earth like that. What a wonderful experience. :)ReplyDelete
Hi Rita, It's always nice to read your response. Knowing the difficulties you've faced, you have a really generous view of life. It's very inspiring.Delete
While on backpacking trips in the desert, I have spent entire afternoons watching harvester ants at work. Religious experiences they were, no less.ReplyDelete
The desert supplies some fine ways to discover all the little forms of life. I absolutely understand it as a religious experience. Church of the Blue Dome.Delete
Absolutely amazing! I had no idea that ants would do this. What an astounding thing to watch.ReplyDelete
Life and death are universal. It touches every single being. Thank you for sharing this experience. Thank you for "seeing" what most don't.
Hi Connie! It was one of the most incredible things I've seen. I had no idea and was completely mesmerized by it. It really did change my life, how I view other beings.Delete
i just got bitten by an ant earlier ;-( im starting to dislike them. it gave me a big swollen thing on my face.ReplyDelete
I'm sorry to hear that.Delete
It is always fun as an adult to rekindle one's childhood interests. Just returned from an awesome trip to Cuba, with nary an ant in sight!ReplyDelete
I've always thought Cuba would make a very interesting trip. I can imagine it was very interesting. Welcome Home!Delete
How I wish I could reblog this - beautiful!ReplyDelete
t, If reblogging was what you do, you could and I would be honored, but you have such wonderful posts of your own. I'm glad you liked this one. :)Delete
I was watching ants with my son when he was about 2 and he prodded one of them and injured it. As it limped along, two others came and carried it away.Don't know if they might have a hospital service as well as a funeral one, Teresa.ReplyDelete
I wouldn't be at all surprised to find a care unit just below the surface. It's starting to sound like ants already have Universal healthcare and not this ridiculous Obamacare, which isn't "care" at all. What a scam.Delete
Hope all is well in Glasgow! Let me know how that Kerouac event went.
Like bees, ants behave somewhat in a way that displays colonial intelligence. One observer wrote that like the human brain, one cell doesn't seem very capable, but all the cells together working harmoniously seems nearly unstoppable. Ants (and bees) seem to have this collective intelligence. An entire colony or hive knows just what to do in almost any given situation.ReplyDelete
And I'm asking myself, is that a good thing, or a bad thing? How would that work for humans? Something to consider.... :)Delete
Dear Teresa, your story amazes me. Nature is an unending, ceaseless, bountiful reminder of the care with which we must take in living our lives compassionately and meaningfully. Peace.ReplyDelete
It certainly stuck with me, witnessing this and learning from it. Thank you so much for your response.Delete
A Belfast biologist (if there is such a thing) told me years ago that the gene pool of ants is distributed across the whole colony, not at individual level. So, genetically, the survival instinct is for the community, not the singletons. I'm sure she was right.ReplyDelete
I'm chuckling.... surely there must be such a thing. I have no doubt she was right. It was the witnessing of what I still saw as their care for those... in their care, that struck me deeply. Even if it's just survival instinct.Delete