I have been fighting ants who battle me for my living space in the most archetypal of wars: might over right. No place is safe from them, no container air-tight, no feeding bowl ant-proof; to say that they are ubiquitous would be an understatement. I also reside with cats, who count on my opposable thumbs for their main food source, and my unpredictable schedule demands that the sensible thing to do would be to leave out some dry food they can snack on on days I return home after 14 hours.
Because I live in Florida, everyone I sing my woes to responds with the same refrain: "It comes with living here; get used to it! I have ants too."
But, I ask you, how can one get used to it?
I have tried haldi powder some swear by; I sprinkled it on the rim of the air-tight cat food container, around feeding bowls of the cats, even underneath the paper on the parakeets' cage. Then, there were the coffee grounds, ant baits, moth balls, and granules that promised to drive the armies away within a fortnight.
Nothing worked. The ants returned in hordes, ever increasing in number, seeking out ways of seeping into cat food, garbage cans, even the water left out for the cats. I have quested after the true ant-proof feeding bowl with the faith only a grail-knight would understand. I have tried chip-and-dip platters, filling the larger part with the water, and holding food, Tantalus-like, in the middle, where the dip is meant to go. But the ants defeated me there too. I found them, invariably, in the food, and once there, they kept the cats away.
I have even thrown away shamefully large amounts of money in hopes of owning such an object. One promising bowl cost me as much as $29 a piece. It is a complicated construction, which heartened my courage and loosened my purse strings. It's a two-storey contraption that is meant to hold water on the first storey, and a detachable bowl that hangs over the water that's meant to hold the food. I thought this $29 contraption would work wonderfully in ways the chip-and-dip platters never did.
But the ants got in that too.
I must confess that at this point, the ants have won my admiration for their tenacity and sheer determination. I have seen them hanging in complex clusters so others can march over their bodies to spaces too high for a singular ant to reach. I regularly clean out ant bodies of willingly drowned martyrs whose cadavers have provided purchase for others to reach across oceans of water. If the cat knocks over the wet food and a bit remains undetected by my mop, in they march and arrange themselves in labyrinthine formations to increase efficiency.
These creatures are also the best cleaners I know. A surface visited by ants, you can be sure, is clean enough to eat off. Not a scrap, granule, or bit remain. And they eat almost all organic material. I am convinced, if I was a greater slob than I am, I'd never wipe off the stove after cooking, trusting, that given time, the ants would clean the stove better than the most abrasive bleach cleaner can.
In just a few hours, these tiny insects build apartments, streets, winding pathways, roundabouts, even two-way highways around the littlest scrap the cat spills. Every time I clean up the ants, I imagine ant-bards hiding in shadows, watching the apocalypse with unbelieving horror, as a civilization is cruelly wiped out with a poisoned shower from above. I wonder which ant-heroes fought valiantly to save the cocoons and the young, whose brave pincers rescued the queen or collapsed doing it, and what ant-verse the minstrels will use to honor the glorious past so meaninglessly erased at a whim of another being. I also wonder how long I shall carry those ant-lives on my back.
Every survivor knows to honor the worthy opponent. This entry is a pean to my worthiest opponents, the ants. I bow in admiration to their ingenuity and unfailing enterprise.
Fighting with ants also keeps things in a proper perspective for me; what the singular ant is to me, I am to the Universe. When I crush the ant, I don't stop to ask its identity and judge if the ant is good, important, or how many others of its species depend on its well-being, nor do I wiegh the consequences of its demise on ant politics. Yet, I am convinced, that the ant about to be crushed is sure of its rightful place as a prime predator of a higher intelligence.
Is that what the Universe thinks of me? And how else am I to prove my worth as a being greater than an ant, but to point to the heavy burden of dead martyrs I carry?