Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lord of the Ants

I played God today. I was the Almighty, as I laid to waste the lives of millions of ants without so much as a care, and whether or not they looked up to me as a great superior being and prayed for their salvation or not as I thundered overhead is immaterial. I couldn’t hear their cries, and if I could, I wouldn’t even have listened. Smite was the word of the day, destruction their lot, and a ruthless vengeance was mine. I wrought upon them a pestilence the likes of which they have never seen, and the souls of countless Hymenoptera Formicidae met their maker and were banished from the tiny ecosystem that is my backyard, forever. There is no love lost, no tear shed and no mourning have they earned. Scavengers, relentless foragers are they that know no discipline nor boundaries, and they got what was coming, chemical death from above.

I filled their honeycombed subterranean dwellings with liquid agony. I followed their dutiful trails to their sources and doused them with a burning acid that had them writhing within their exoskeletons. They perished by the score, as massive piles of lifeless bodies curled up in heaps to be swept away with the winds. I carpet bombed the entire lawn with a rain of terror that took no prisoners, left no survivors and allowed no quarter to those that pleaded for surrender; their history ends, the reign is over, the queen is dead.

When I was a kid, I had an ant farm, a curiosity that sat on my nightstand that I dearly enjoyed. I’d watched them with great interest as they created their little world within the plastic confines of the farm. Thirty years later, I have an ant galaxy swirling beyond my doorstep, a black hole for anything edible. Drop a piece of meat on the lawn and it will be gone by morning. A few scattered pieces of dog food kernels miss the bowl and two hours later, they appear to move on their own. Each night there is a battle to the death between the ants and the June Bugs that were unfortunate enough to fall from the light fixture by the backdoor, and each day scouts devotedly scour each quadrant of the vast territory for new quarry. Then, with very little to stop them, they march.

Before the invasion, Natalie and I would often visit the slope area and observe them peacefully making their way around the rocks and sticks to and from unknown destinations, following each other complacently, maybe even happy with their purpose. By myself sometimes, I have often stopped in the driveway to stoop down and spy on them as they went about their business, burrowing a new domicile to house their ever-expanding numbers or moving a big rock with teamwork. Interesting creatures, despite my loathing for them, and I do find them a fascinating lot. Always working, they’re a complete society with one very pointed purpose, to feed themselves and their offspring at whatever the cost.

But they had the slope, a substantial piece of property, all to their own. It was their territory and I respected their space, as a massacre was never wrecked upon them as long as they stayed on the slope. I let them live there in peace, knowing that there was a boundary, a frontier not to be crossed, but if they traverse the patio, if they march on concrete, they’ve gone too far; the line has been crossed, treaties will be broken and promises between foes forgotten. It wasn’t long until I saw them in the grass, on the curbs near the smudge pot, in the wood chips by the big rocks, each advance, each demonstration of their power, their might, more brazen than the last. Food became plenty with the advent of Spring. Then numbers grew. Soon, a dozen here, a new line formed there, a brave scouting party made their way past the glass slider and into the house; their Last Stand was courageous.

There’s no doubt there will be another, and where would it end? When Abraham Lincoln suspected he had an ant problem in the White House in 1863, he uttered these immortal words:

“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some trans-backyard line of ants to step over the grass and crush us in a blow? Never. All the army ants of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not, by force, take a drink from the kitchen sink or make a track on the living room carpet in a trial of a thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected?”

Yes, Abe! Should I expect to see them in the pantry again (like at the old house), or how about they help themselves to a plate of cookies (like in the apartment so many years ago)? Well, I say no more; the ants will die. Like Lincoln, I agree: “Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.”

The lines of ants following the newly laid concrete super highways around the yard, gone. The honeycombs, gone. Under every rock, clean. Behind every bush, devoid of ants. The air will be cleaner. The ground won’t move on its own. June Bugs will be free to fly in peace again. And random pieces of dog food will be licked from the pavement by Elsa, not carried off piecemeal by a horde of six-legged foragers.

“If destruction be their lot, I myself must be the author and finisher.”

It all ends now.

* The above liberally edited quotes were parodied from the great speeches of Abraham Lincoln, most notably the Gettysburg Address and the eulogy of Henry Clay, both appearing in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction at Disneyland. I like to site my sources.

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