I showed him the empty jelly jar -- empty, that is, except for three tiny captives hunkered down together in it. I suppose the sadness I felt showed in my voice.
"They just tend to cluster together now," I said, frowning at them through the glass.
"Why don't you let them go?" my son David asked me. "Why not release them where the trails were, so they can find their way back to the nest and die with the others?"
A few minutes later, I did just that. Three ants landed on the floor of my kitchen and, as ants will, ran off in every direction except the logical one, which was toward the tiny crack that led, somehow or other, down to their nest under the house. I watched for a minute and then walked off, knowing they would find their way in their own good time.
It may seem odd, or even stupid, that I was concerned about three, small black ants, especially when I had set out the day before to kill the entire nest down in the compacted fill under my house.
I set out poisoned bait, captured three ants on their way from the bait to the nest, and put them in an empty jelly jar to see how long it would take my homemade recipe to destroy the nest. My attitude was cold and indifferent, totally without compassion.
You cannot get rid of this type of ant using the conventional methods.
Spraying the foundation, dusting ant powder around the house, looking for ant trails -- all the usual tactics -- just won't work. These ants don't live outside the house; they live inside it.
The year before, I had ripped up thresholds, torn cabinets off walls, sprayed deadly poison around, and gotten nowhere. It wasn't until I mixed up my ant cocktail and put it in some bottle caps for them to find and carry back to the nest that I finally prevailed. When they showed up again this year, I can tell you, I was one angry dude and I knew what to do.
The stuff I whipped up again worked beautifully. The ants came, drank, trundled back and forth in a double trail, slowly grew fewer and fewer, and finally quit coming at all.
I captured three of them just to see how long the stuff took to work. At first, they ran around the jar and hid under the lid, but after a day or so they quit hiding and just huddled together. When I released them, they were alive, but doomed.
I've thought about it a lot since then -- "since then" being two days ago.
I don't hate them anymore. All they were trying to do was find food. All living things do that. They didn't know it was my sugar bowl they got into; it was just there.
Probably, they have no idea I even exist. If there were some way to communicate with the little guys, I would set aside a pound of sugar for them somewhere and tell them to have at it.
I can't do that, of course. It's not possible to communicate with them. Never will be.
But why, you have a right to ask, do I care about all this? There isn't the slightest doubt that if the tables were turned, the ants would exterminate me with no more concern than I at first felt about exterminating them.
So why should I care?
Well, having seen those three little guys huddled together, I do care. I'm not an ant. I'm not an animal. I'm not a creature whose nature allows it to live out its life indifferent to the needs and suffering of others. I have been granted the ability to think and feel. It is my nature to think and feel -- and yours, too. It's the price we pay for being human.
We can't change the universe. We can't even understand it. We have no choice but to stumble along day after day doing the best we can. We are forced, at times, to do things that on some level we feel are wrong.
Caring may not make them right, but not caring ... ?