Tuesday, April 26, 2011

fire ants

I wrote my first story in the fourth grade -- a story that had come to me the night before as I lay in bed waiting for sleep. I forget the details, but it concerned a mouse to which I attributed human characteristics. No doubt the format was taken from the comic books I read at the time -- lots of mice and cats and other animals that could talk and connive and have adventures and display other human qualities. I was quite pleased with the story, but my mother, a writer, pointed out a bit too sharply that animals are not people. It was a grown-up assessment offered to a child and I was dashed: Writing a story was quite an accomplishment.

This morning, skimming the news wires, the stories about human activities were predictably predictable ... wars and frictions and disasters and hard times and political maneuvering and winning and losing and ... well human stuff that I simply could not find any profound interest in. Perhaps it was too repetitive or too depressing or too something-else, but for the moment it simply didn't grab my interest. Maybe it should have in some way, but the plain fact was, it didn't.

And then I came to a Washington Post story about fire ants and found myself reading it from one end to the other. Faced with the dangers that water (as in flooding) can pose, fire ants bond together, keep each other afloat, and live to sting another day. The story mentioned -- but did not bludgeon the reader with it -- that human beings might take a lesson from the fire ant. I was grateful to the writer for not waxing lyrical with the metaphors that could have been brought to bear. Fire ants, as my mother might have noted, are not people and anthropomorphisms really are better suited to religions and comic books.

Still, the surviving of threats is a characteristic of the animal kingdom and human beings are animals, so the wisdom of the ants (even if they aren't technically "animals") did arouse a mutual interest in me.

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