A Conversation With an Ant

Red ant on a leaf

Yesterday, I had a conversation with an ant. A tiny little red one. Well, maybe it wasn’t a conversation, as it was sort of one-way, but I enjoyed it. Most of it was nonverbal—an appreciation and admiration of its strength and persistence.

The sink was full of them—excited, industrious, and purposeful. I didn’t know where they had come from—first, there were only a couple, but then a horde of them suddenly materialized. I gently blew most of them away so I could run the water without drowning them, but one ant remained, weighed down by an enormous crumb it was holding onto. The crumb was so big—several times its size—that it struggled to move, holding it up and carrying it like a man staggering under a huge burden of wood.

I did tell the ant that I would be picking it up and moving it, but assured it that it could hang onto its incredible prize. I carefully blew it into the grass outside. All the way down and into the grass, it held on to that crumb like a dog with an incredibly large juicy bone, larger than it had ever imagined possible. I hope I didn’t drop it too far from its home – it was a very heavy load to carry.

I could have washed the ants down the drain. But why? I would destroy a remarkable life form for no reason. And what kind of energy would that have put into my body? Instead I was filled with admiration and resolve to keep a cleaner sink. Much more enjoyable and better for the immune system.

And after all, the ants wouldn’t have come if there was no food. They won’t waste energy. In the fight for life and survival, it is necessary to be efficient (unlike we humans, who have the temporary luxury, afforded by modern civilization, to be inefficient). It was my mistake for leaving a few crumbs in the sink. Where there is a potential food source, there is hope that there may continue to be one… so now I have to be extra clean.

Red ant carrying a red berry along a rope
Photo by Rapin_1981 (shutterstock.com)

A couple of days later, I went to the sink and saw a few ants, darker this time and the next size up. Oh no! Was the message spreading? And how did they get there? Were they signaled or invited by their smaller relatives? Were their tiny antennae tuned to my sink after my cleaning oversight? Or had they spied on the intrepid little ants?

The end result of the interaction brought me delight and filled me with a sense of wonder. I knew how to eliminate any ant issues, so there was actually no problem (keep a clean sink). And I have a new appreciation for their tenacity—especially that of my crumb-carrying friend. In a battle, I would want it on my side.

That ant’s presence gave me enjoyment, and the interaction made the morning more interesting. I also became a bit more attuned to other life forms around me. While city living does have its pleasures, one drawback is that we are primarily surrounded by one life form—human—and that life form isn’t always particularly tuned in to anything except itself. That lack of variety limits our awareness of the richness of Life.

I have no idea if my conversation with the ant was on some level a two-way communication—on a practical level, “I’m not going to take your crumb away,” and on a higher level, sheer appreciation. We humans have wildly varied ways of looking at these things, from “it’s just a bug” to seeing an alive, conscious being capable of tuning to another in “the field of consciousness,” and myriad variations in between. But in this case, unless it was a very advanced ant, I don’t think my appreciation got through. It was wholly fixated on its astounding prize, a crumb of fresh buttery blueberry scone. All of its energy was focused on its bounty.

After I started keeping the sink scrupulously clean, I would still sometimes find a lone ant scouting back and forth across the surface, forlornly looking for that magical food source. Whether she was a scout sent out by the colony or the same ant who had discovered that amazing crumb, I don’t know. But hope stirs eternal.

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