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May 31, 2018: Happy Trails to You

When I was in high school, a classmate (her name was Terri Clifford) wrote a poem with the line “If it’s ants we are, we only got one jar.” Over the years I have thought of that line – at the time it was not what it is now, prophetic.

Yes, we need to take care of what we have, because we are connected to the earth and all the creatures that inhabit it, and also the trails we all trod upon.

Yesterday, I stopped doing agility for a bit and watched the ants crawling up and down the watering hose that leads from the upper tank to the high tunnel garden. The hose trail was obviously preferable to

the rutted grass trail – it was a smoother, more straight path. I did not even consider moving the hose and seeing what they’d do because I didn’t want to disrupt their not so orderly flow.

There were two lines, one going up and one going down. Those going in each way acknowledged one another’s presence, by stopping and touching heads or bodies. There was definitely hierarchical thinking going on here.

I was about to resume doing what I was doing when I caught sight of an ant carrying part of a bee carcass, more specifically, the head (I could see the black glossy eye) and the topmost fuzzy part of the body. The ant, which had a really good grip on the fragment, was slowly making its way up the hose. What an arduous trip. I tried to imagine it, a human carrying a load half its size up a narrow incline.

I watched as the ant inadvertently dropped its parcel, and then kept on going. I was so focused on what became of the carcass that I lost sight of the ant. It had looked just like the others. I felt around in the grass and found the piece – I picked it up very carefully and put it back on the hose, so as to see what would happen. Amazingly, the other ants ignored it – just went around it. One, just one, did try and lift it, but it quickly gave up.

The morsel fell off the hose again. Two or three of the ants half tumbled off the hose, into the brushy ground. They disappeared, surfaced, in the grass, twigs, and rocks. I did not see the carcass.

It was back to business as usual on the hose. The ants just kept going, some up, some down. I suspect that the ant that had lost its parcel just kept going.

I felt like Edmund O. Wilson, who for many years studied ant behavior. I suppose he too was left with many questions, such as, do ants think about past and present? Was that ant at all bothered by the fact that its work was for naught? Did losing its load cause it to become in any way disoriented? Did it turn around and seek another parcel?

I have no idea. I do often think about going to some far off place and studying wildlife. But I was able to play naturalist, right in my own backyard. I just had to take the time to do so.

Next: 152. 6/1/18: Making Trail-related connections

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