As I crunched my way through the snow today, I was reminded of the crunching sounds I heard as I walked many years ago. It wasn’t frozen water crunching underfoot, but grass and vegetation badly in need of some of the liquid kind. This was the nearly constant state of the grass in the fields around my home as I grew up. The annual rainfall in the Rio Grande Valley is sparse, to put it kindly. As we walked and ran from one activity to another, we kicked aside dried grasses and weeds or trampled them underfoot, hardly noticing the cracks in the hardened earth caused by the lack of precipitation. In our experience, it had always been like this, so we took no notice.
We did take notice frequently of the big red harvester ants, which could be found growing prolifically in those days. Their nests (which we called “beds”) were easily recognizable and quite visible in the barren soil. They didn’t build up a nest above ground, but burrowed down under the soil to escape the heat and elements. They had very few natural enemies, the horned lizard (see post on 10/15/2010) being the primary predator of these large, armored creatures. Adventurous young boys might also be listed as a predator of these prehistoric-appearing creatures, but that was only sporadically and if we received one sting, our interest waned very quickly. The sting from these colonizing insects was extremely painful, spreading like fire through the lymph nodes and subsiding very slowly. One list I’ve seen notes that on a pain scale of 0 to 4, with 4 being the most painful non-lethal insect sting possible, the result of a sting from this little beauty comes in at a very respectable 3. Sadly for any ant which stung us, the result was almost always to be crushed, since for some reason we thought revenge was absolutely paramount.
We hear of sadistic little boys with magnifying glasses loitering near the ant beds, and to my shame I tried that a time or two, but thankfully found it completely unfulfilling. So, I set my sights on bigger things, taking pleasure in digging trenches near the holes, the ditches encircling the nest, going out in ever expanding circles. When the concentric trenches were completed, a job entailing a good bit of care, watching the columns of ants coming and going from the surrounding areas to be sure none found their way up my shoe to the tender ankle area, I would find a water source. The garden hose was best since the ground was thirsty, but a bucket would suffice to fill the trenches surrounding the bed. Of course, I would leave a section of ground intact through each little canal, over which the ants could make their way coming and going, but it would not run directly into the intact part over the next trench, so the ants would have to wend their way in circles around the nest, knowing where home and safety was, but unable to get to it without finding the next open path through the water. As long as I kept the shallow ditches filled with water and didn’t get stung, this would pass the better part of any afternoon. I was happy, because no ants were harmed in the construction, plus it gave me a sense of power! My own little colony, following the pathway I made for them, not able to get over the water and content (well maybe not content…) to follow the route laid out.
I know many people who feel like those ants. Working for a faceless corporate entity, they are forced to walk a path every day that makes no sense to them. Going in circles, moving closer to their goal only at the whim of the management, they struggle day after exhausting day. I can sympathize with folks in this position. Many of my friends think that because I am “self-employed”, I do what I want, when I want. In reality, I have hundreds of busy little boys digging the trenches I have to navigate. Every customer who enters my store has a direction I have to turn, every caller on the phone, a need that must be satisfied promptly. The same frustration most employees of large corporations experience, I also experience. It’s probably a good thing we aren’t able to find that ankle to sting which we are constantly in search of, since when the stinging is accomplished, recompense is quick and infinitely more damaging to ourselves than the annoyance of going in circles to attain the real goal, home and safety. I know…I’ve used my stinger more than once, to disastrous results every time.
We’re not ants, and we don’t really have to move at the whim of others in that way. It just feels like it sometimes. But, if we keep moving toward our goals and resisting the temptation to hurt those who stand in our way, we’ll find the end result is amazingly rewarding. Sometimes, we just have to take the long road home.
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
(Albert Einstein~American physicist)