While the rest of the country is figuring out how to return to the golden age of a welfare state, I’m learning to live with ants.
One hot summer night an ant crawled across the living room floor. It was as long as my baby toe. I treated it as a guest, as I have learned to treat all the creepy crawlies that visit our ground floor apartment in the countryside. This particular ant’s reddish hue contrasted nicely with our rust colored floor tiles. It didn’t stop to talk, but still, I was hospitable. Until I saw its cousin. Then I urged my partner to take the broom and sweep our uninvited guests out the door. This humane treatment of creatures smaller than humans does not come naturally to me. I learned it from my partner.
The next hot summer night another ant came to visit. This ant looked like a relative of the previous night’s visitor. In the six years we have lived in the countryside, I had never seen such large ants. Again, I tried to be welcoming.
I noticed that the ants only began their visits at 9:30 and wondered if they waited until after the nightly news. Were they not interested in the massacres in Syria, the famine in Sudan?
The next night my partner went to sleep early and I sat alone in the living room. That night I counted six visitors. The next morning I called the landlord. He brought over some white stuff that I was to put in the cracks. Our house looked like it had been powdered with fairy dust.
One morning a few days later, feeling quite relaxed, I walked into the kitchen. The marble counter top was moving. On closer inspection I saw an army of tiny brown ants positioned on the marble counter. One platoon carried a bread crumb on a stretcher made from a grain of rice while another platoon attacked the watermelon rind waiting to be thrown into the compost heap. The little ants, God’s truly amazing creatures, marched in perfect lines, their discipline impeccable. When I turned around to leave the kitchen—I didn’t really want breakfast that morning—I saw another platoon crawling up the plastic garbage pail, obviously on a reconnaissance mission.
Along with my admiration for the ants’ military prowess and immunity to fairy dust, I felt the stirrings of hatred. Call it senseless or baseless hatred, in the spirit of Tisha b’Av, but hatred it was. I turned back to the kitchen, grabbed a damp cloth and wiped out the first platoon with one aggressive sweep of the arm. Then I threw the watermelon rind along with its ants into the compost heap outside. I threw the top of the garbage pail covered with intelligence ants into the sink and ran out of the house with the half-empty garbage bag.
The next morning again the marble counter top was moving. This time I boiled water and flooded the whole fucking army. I was aware that from the enemy ants’ point of view, this was a holocaust. I was not proud of my behavior and wondered if ants—the ubiquitous other—inspired in many frail humans such expressions of Evil.
That night I awoke at 2 AM scratching and itching. The next morning I spread the fairy dust in the bedroom.
At work, something tickled my arm. I looked down and saw the hairs on my arm moving and instinctively hit, slapped and brushed off the tiny brown creatures. Now I was a carrier, not only of Hatred and Evil, but also the enemy.
A friend told me that ants detest the smell of cloves so that night I decorated the kitchen counter. The rows of cloves looked like giant brown stitches on smooth white skin. There was no space left to prepare food, but it was summer and our appetites had dwindled. Still, the ants came.
One morning after a night of itching and cursing, I did not greet the ants in the kitchen with the respect due to all of God’s creatures large and small. I yelled at them in all my languages: Latin, Hebrew, English and French. I told them it wasn’t fair that they had invaded my space. Do your ant thing outside, I screamed.
As everyone knows, when tired, humans often give free reign to their Evil Impulse. After the boiling water, I sprayed (nonorganic) soap. With scratchy plastic pads I scraped the marble counter. I wanted to show the little motherfuckers who was boss. The message, I assumed, would get back to their nests via the one or two survivors.
That night I saw another big red one. My storage room of compassion was depleted. I took off my sandals and put on a pair of running shoes. I lifted one foot over the crawling monster and militantly crushed its back. First it creaked; then it crunched. I had not expected a crunch; it had looked so soft and labile as it glided over my floor. I had expected a silent death.
Within three minutes the dead mother ant was surrounded by a thousand little baby ants. They encircled the big dead body and may have wailed, but I couldn’t hear them, as I ran to get the broom. When I returned to sweep the whole red army out the front door, they were carrying their mother away. Or were they eating her?
Now I have ants on my computer, ants on the kettle and ants on the toothpaste. Sometimes I have itching in my ear and I wonder if an ant has crawled inside. Every time I see something move in my peripheral vision, I hear a creak and a crunch. This is the sound of the illusion of power, the sound, I fear, that will accompany me to the grave.
Perfectly described, Judy. No matter how compassionate you may be, it’s impossible to share your living space with ants.
A neighbor recommended cinnamon. I haven’t tried it yet, because so far we have just the occasional wanderer. I’d check the Internet, a wonderful resource for dealing with home hazards. It was there I found the solution to a problem that had stumped the plumber and everyone else I had asked: a sewage smell in the downstairs bathroom. On the Internet I read about keeping a bowl filled with vinegar in the bathroom. And it worked. It might even work on the ants.
Thanl you Esther. I shall try that.
I’d say more white powder. It sounds unlivable. I have no partner to help me love little creatures, but I try. I see my lighter dark side with the ants– saying I’m sorry to each before I crush it, letting it know it was truly unfortunate that it chose to scavenge my counters when I happened to be there. My ants are small, and much fewer, and my thumb does the trick.
It was the baby bat, however, that really got to me. Waking in the middle of the night, alone, to this loud sound, I managed to catch it with a towel but couldn’t let go long enough to open the window. Somewhere the fear took hold, and I began to crush it against the window. It kept up it’s noisy screeching and I found myself screaming “be quiet, don’t you know I’m killing you” until it stopped. I then tossed it out the window, but in the morning, no sign of it. So was it a dream? Or did I murder an innocent creature in a very cruel way– I think the latter….
This is amazing, Jane. You should write an essay about this experience. Diana Hume George wrote an essay about killing an animal while she was driving. I don’t remember the title but I’m sure you could find it in one of your fabulous libraries. It’s in her collection The Lonely Other.
I just tested the cinnamon approach. Fuggedaboutit. It’s fairy dust from now on for me too.
I live in a rural area with lots of ants, and have found the following works: Take a package of bay leaves, soak them in boiling water, then put the cooled solution in a sprayer and spray the counter, window sill, cabinets, threshold, wherever you’ve seen the ants enter or hang out. Keep the sprayer handy and save the bay leaves (after you let them dry) in the fridge. The leaves can be soaked again in boiling water to make more spray.
Also, be really scrupulous about not leaving any food out overnight. Ants will come to scout but probably won’t stick around for long if they don’t find a food source.
Psychologically it helps me to sit or stand near and observe an anthill and the paths they take to and from. Remembering the beauty of their organization and communication helps me tolerate them more when they enter “my” realm.
By the way you may be itching from the “fairy dust” not from the ants or the creeps they give you!
Thank you, Rena, for this wonderful comment.