Thoughts On An Ant Hill


I frequently walk my dog in a wooded area near my home. Due to the foresight and diligence of the Town of Payson and the Forest Service, it's a fairly open area. There are trees and brush though, so it's a reasonably natural environment.

Cowboy, the dog, and I wander through this terrain enjoying sights, sounds and smells not present in the concrete world only a few hundred yards away.

Ravens seem to take the most offense at our intrusion. An occasional squirrel will bark an obscenity, but otherwise the area is rather quiet and peaceful.

Once though, coming from this little area at night, I heard the most terrifying sound I have ever heard. Some small animal fell prey to a cunning trap laid by a coyote pack.

Tiny squeals could be heard intermittently while horrible, guttural howls and triumphant screams sliced through the night. I heard the final panting rush and capture -- low moans leading to a howling, gnashing crescendo as the designated leaders ran down their quarry.

It could have been the soundtrack from an alien horror movie or a promotional for what Hell must be like.

I was only a short distance away, and I was absolutely frozen in nauseous terror.

Later, I couldn't help but admire the skill and cunning of a group of animals who work as a team to furnish plunder for the whole. Little wonder that during the Second World War, German submarine patrols were known as "Wolf Packs."

I thought it rather sad, however, that here in a modern suburban setting, the ancient, once lauded technique was badly tarnished -- diminished by using its brilliant and powerful strategy to down a rabbit or perhaps a small dog. How inelegant and wasteful, and how threadbare the result.

Once in a while on our walks, as Cowboy pauses, I notice ant hills and the vast industry which attends them. I have seen them grow over periods of time and watched as other neighboring mounds appeared.

These creatures, too, seem to be working as a complex team to accomplish something for the whole.

The area surrounding these ant hills is alive with hundreds, maybe thousands of little black or red creatures, all moving at top-speed toward some frantic goal or another.

Some carry bits of material, others food perhaps, but many just seem to be running around looking for something to do.

Not long ago, a neighbor's little girl was apparently bitten or stung by ants. She had wandered into the woods while her caretaker was out for a smoke and a chat on the cell phone.

Her screams brought several people to her rescue. Later it also brought some vitriolic talk about "dangerous ants" from her father.

The caretaker was completely absolved, I believe. The father proceeded for several days to pour poisonous pellets of some sort down and around all the ant hills he could find.

Later, he was seen covering the areas with dirt. The effort was fastidious if not a bit obsessive. It was admirable in its intent.

For some time, Cowboy and I noticed the still and quiet of an antless forest, safe from any dire threat from below.

It wasn't long, however, before little mounds appeared here and there with small openings abuzz with ant activity. They didn't seem angry, just relieved to once again be about "ant business."

Shock and Awe must have done in thousands, but the natural order of things seeks a balance, and here was ample proof.

Life appears to have a pendulum effect. The cycle is long, rarely experienced by an individual person.

Most of us live our lives along a small arc on whatever path the pendulum happens to be taking.

This, we name "Truth."

Every generation or so, a philosopher might come along who is able to perceive the whole motion. To the degree that we listen and are willing to adjust our thinking, mankind gradually, grudgingly accommodates to the big picture.

Using all our cunning and might on small prey or attempting to overpower a perceived menace with superior force might have emotional appeal in the short term.

Ask the coyote, though, whether his strategy is amply rewarded in a suburban environment. Ask the father if he might do better to place blame where it belongs.

I'll bet they would agree that neither can do much to change the pendulum.

Their best hope lies in understanding the arc.

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