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Just Watching Ants

by Roberta McReynolds

The voice from my television loudly proclaims, "It's ant season!" I don't remember anything Mr. Pest Control said following that less than enlightening bit of trivia. Tell me something I haven't already observed close up and personal.

I also know that it is ant season at the homes of several of my pen pals, although it's hard to imagine, because I'm certain the insects are all living at my address and they never go on vacation. One wrote, "Our home is sitting on an ant hill!" There must be a 90-mile tunnel directly linking our properties. Another reports ants are leaking through every crevice of her house. I feel her pain. Tell me, Mr. Know-It-All Pest Control Guy, when is it not ant season?

Every creature on the planet serves a purpose and performs a job. Exactly what ants do that we cannot live without, I couldn't say. I'm not an entomologist, nor do I have enough spare time to find out. I'm too busy chasing ants. If only they would remain outside in my garden, I'm sure a truce could be negotiated. I've even considered placing a large sculpture of a queen ant in the backyard and leaving regular offerings at the alter. A five pound sack of sugar during each full moon ought to do the job.

Watering my plants each morning has become as much an effort of surveillance for invaders as giving moisture to wilting flowers. Another ant trail has formed and is headed directly for the south side of the house where it disappears at the foundation. Defending my kitchen once again, I promptly return, armed with insecticide. I spray, watching ants stagger and scatter everywhere.

Does this stuff work, or do the bugs just get hangovers and come back again tomorrow? My favorite brand was taken off the market. I suspect someone believed it was too toxic. Yet, it is with a pang of sorrow that I feel forced to kill anything. Even ants.

The moment has taken me back to when I was a child, perhaps three or four years old. Grandma used to occasionally babysit for my parents. She had a wonderful house and a garden to match. She showed me how to make Hollyhock dolls and wolf faces from Pomegranate flowers. I thought it was so magical! Her yard was like a fairyland to me.

Grandma used to love to tell a story about how I had once gone out to her backyard to play. I was always a very quiet girl, used to entertaining myself for long periods of time. But I suppose that long periods of silence can prompt adults to worry. Grandma came out the back door and stood on the steps, hands on hips in a pose characteristic of this grand matriarch.

She surveyed the yard with a glance and spotted me stretched out on my belly on the walkway, head propped up on my elbows as I stared at the earth.

"Roberta, what are you doing?" she inquired.

"Watching ants."

Grandma laughed. She laughed later when she told my parents. She laughed at every family reunion for years. Somehow, the sight of me trying to get on eye level with an ant colony and observing the industrious activity, for hours, amused her to no end.

My grandmother died when I was in my early twenties. After all these years, I still don't get the joke. I can still hear her voice repeating my answer, "Oh, just watching ants." Perhaps her wisdom and experience knew the day would come when I would make a rite of passage from wide-eyed child to determined soldier waging war every ant season.

I feel cheated that she didn't get to see me as a successful adult. I wish I could ask her about her wonderful garden and how she grew certain plants. Where did they come from and why did she select them? I have a start from a Bilbursia she once had. An aunt tells me it caught Grandma's eye at a motel she stayed in Oregon about 1930. She talked the owners out of a piece of it. There is a Pink that Grandma got from her mother and a Philodendron that she gave my father when he opened his photography studio in 1945. But what about the Hollyhock, geraniums and pomegranate? The olive tree that she tricked city people into tasting the fruit before it was cured?

Part of me longs to put the bug spray back on the shelf and spend some time laying on my belly watching ants, hoping Grandma will come out the back door and check on me. I have so many questions I'd like to ask her. One of them would be for her homemade ant poison concoction.


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