Tuesday, June 12, 2007


While arranging my chair on the deck prior to my evening post-woodsplitting glass of wine, I notice an odd smudge on the deck floor. Leaning closer, I see that it is actually a mass perturbation in the long excursion of a tribe of tiny red ants. I follow the formic safari three or four meters back along the deck, the stream being but a narrow red vein (and hard to see against the stained wood of the deck), except for that patch of chaos beneath my chair where, perhaps, they are debating the wisdom of this move. The trail traces back to where the line emerges from a space between two deck boards, the long red line apparently climbing up from the ground along one of the deck posts.

Curious about where in their world the thousands or millions could be going, I note that after passing beneath me (an hour later they are still going by, in undiminished numbers) they make a sharp turn at a serendipitously fallen weeping-cherry stem that directs them toward their new nirvana, the Heavenly Bamboo growing up through a square hole in the deck. They disappear down into the far corner of the square.

At first glance, I thought maybe they were marauding and had found a massive cache of goodies, such as our honey or my gumdrop stash. A closer look with a magnifier (these ants are really tiny) however, reveals that they aren't carrying any luggage or goodies at all, excepting quite a few marchers who are all carrying identical white nanodots, which, given their uniformity, must be the tribal eggs. I also notice that quite a few of the ants are traveling purposefully in the direction opposite that of the horde. Some of those, too, are carrying eggs. There's always a few who haven't a clue...

The odd thing is that about an hour ago, while still splitting wood pre-wine, I picked up from the ground an old roof tile that had fallen from its place in holding down the tarp on a half-cord of wood I'd stacked in front of the deck. When I picked the tile up, I saw that the underside was entirely covered, to a depth of ½ cm, in tiny red ants, who had been using the tile as a way station on their journey.

Before placing the tile back atop the tarp where it belonged, I tapped it on the ground and all the ants fell off in a seething red pile, an event that must've made local ant headlines. That was about 10 meters from the point at which the ants were now emerging from the deck on their sunset pilgrimage. Could they possibly be the same ants (fast moving!), or are such ants generally on the move hereabouts?

Right beneath me a vast society is on the move in its entirety; countless individuals have picked up their lives by the roots, burned their equivalent of bridges and set out for regions far beyond my chair, carrying all they possess of the past and the future-- a radical transformation, all without complaint, or even a sound. Still they issue from their source in silence...

Why they didn't traverse the shorter distance along the ground beneath the deck, or - if they're the tile ants - a straight line to where they're going, a MUCH shorter distance from the tile epoch than the long roundabout route they're taking (with the added hazard of this big wine-sipping human stepping over their invisible trail) is a question best asked of their leaders, as we humans fruitlessly do of our own politicians. "We are committed by fiat to this course of action; it would be unpatriotic to refuse to follow in the tracks of those brave individuals who are so selflessly sacrificing their lives to advance our cause..." etc. (Even though it's 10 times harder than the smart way, or can never be achieved at all.) In the ant world, as in the human, evidence of leadership or impressively manipulable mannequinship should not be mistaken for wisdom.

I notice the ants are still at it, as the light wanes... So are we.


Anonymous said...

Ah, nature at its most unfathomable points. Perhaps the leadership is taking the long route to sort out the ablest and fittest to follow and to go make the hard sacrifices. Some in the colony elect to go against the majority taking themselves and those who follow (including future generations) into the past.

Bob Brady said...

anonymous, my apologies for the inadequate metaphor; metaphors are always full of holes, like your own version. In characterizing the ‘retro’ ants as conservative, though, you may well be spot on.

Trace said...

Robert, I rather delighted in your metaphor of the ants. Excellent post!

Winston said...

Since we are oceans apart, I cannot be certain, but I believe you may have witnessed the voting line and election process held every third year to elect a new queen. We observe their elections here in Tennessee by ceremoniously clinking glasses of a fine merlot while singeing their small arses with a propane torch as they wind their way across the concrete patio.

Ants are working toward world domination, and if we continue to be distracted by our politicians into thinking the enemy is in Iraq or Iran or North Korea, then we are most certainly doomed. The ants are winning. We must act now...

Chancy said...

Somehow all I could think about while reading your ant post,Robert, was this.

If you have a "rubber tree plant" on or near your deck you must secure it with chains because ants have an affinity for moving them.

"Just what makes that little ole ant

Think he'll move that rubber tree plant?

Anyone knows an ant can't

Move a rubber tree plant

{But he's got hi-i-igh hopes, he's got hi-i-igh hopes}

{He's got high apple pi-i-ie-in-the-sk-y-y hopes}

So, any time you're gettin' low, 'stead of lettin' go, just remember that ant

Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant

(Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant)

{Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant}"

Anonymous said...

Ah,Robert. Typically you fail to recognize yourself among those running contrary to the majority. A pity.