Ozark Outdoors

Ants bring out the metaphors in me

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by George Freeman – Editor GREENE Magazine

I am baffled by ants (and lots of other wonders of the world, but let us try to stay on topic just this once.) As I write this, there are ants in strange places in our peaceful little slice of life.

Lest you think I am unwilling to share our sanctuary, that is not so. There is surely room for the many species that lay claim to our little one-third of an acre, whose spawn will surely supplant the human race one day. We humans are the most endangered species if you really want to start counting heads.

Many varieties of ants

There are many varieties of ants, in all sizes, colors, and levels of aggression.

There are more of most species than there are of us, after all, and their ability to replenish themselves is remarkable.

You’ve observed nature. Remove one squirrel (by whatever means) and two take its place; squash an ant and they send reinforcements exponentially. Pick a tick off yours or your Main Squeeze’s anatomy and listen to their diabolical chant, “We’re coming to take you away: hee, hee, haw, haw, ho, ho, to the Funny Farm. You’ll never get all of us.”

Remember those childhood ditties: “The worms go in; the worms go out; the worms go in you and dance about.”

And now we read there are flesh-eating bacteria. I’m not even going there.

My god, what must the spores and microbes be planning at our expense? It boggles the mind, and we have not even discussed weeds, fungus and other life forms yet to be discovered.

But I digress. It is ants that have upset the balance of nature in our modest little empty nest. I am fully aware that ants, like earthworms, are capable of doing good deeds in the soil, aerating our Ozarks clay, digesting rotting vegetation to produce organic matter in the firmament. And yet, something is causing those rocks to heave, and ants are my primary suspects.

Truthfully, with apologies to Will Rogers, I have yet to meet a solitary ant that I liked personally. Show me an ant and before we have even discussed his presence, my every instinct is to crush the little bugger. Moreover, ants bring out the worst in my instinctive desire to declare war on the entire species (more on this later). The only good ant is a dead ant.

Even now, as I write this, one has just emerged to crawl onto my back-lit MacBook Pro keyboard. From where? How? And most importantly, why? It this some suicidal mission against all odds to stop me from finishing this column?

For an ant, getting here must be something like walking across the Sahara, up the walls of the Grand Canyon, ascending the Mountains of Tora Bora under heavy, artillery, surviving an attack of acid rain, and then (rather stupidly) emerging as one on a white countertop surface where nothing escapes notice.
And yet, let it be known that I have the greatest respect for ants. For starters, ants never sleep.These creatures seem to know their purpose from the moment they are conceived. No presidential primaries are necessary to decide who lead them. It is the queen.

Ants seem to have lived together by the millions in a universe below ground. Their only enemies are birds. moles, certain primates, and of course, the occasional anteater.

Terro is simply Bud Light on steroids.

Food seems abundant. It is the invasive Japanese ant (which give the rest a bad name hereabouts), having arrived fairly in potted plants, and as I understand it, invading Springfield after conquering St. Louis, Columbia and possibly Lebanon and Marshfield.

So how do we tell one invasive ant from another? That’s the problem, isn’t it? They all look alike, as if anyone ever got a good look at a native sugar ant standing next to a Japanese potted plant ant.

By now you know I would not be writing this if it were not without some purpose. GREENE Magazine has always been committed to finding peaceful coexistence amongst all God’s creatures (with the possible exception of fleas, ticks, mosquitos, flies, roaches, termites, brown recluse spiders and arguably, gnats and certain politicians). And of course, rats. And germs. And certain fungi. Okay, either you get the metaphor by now or you don’t. Let’s move on.

Ants need to find their place and stick to it.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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