Thursday, September 18, 2014

What Ants Say To Each Other

I’ve often wondered what animals communicate to each other. Take ants, when a whole bunch of them are going almost in single file in one direction and they meet others coming from the opposite direction. They stop and seem to be having a conversation of some kind, then they carry on in whatever direction they were going. Maybe once in a while the conversation goes like this:

Ant-with-the-crowd: "Hey, you're going in the wrong direction." 

Single, independent-minded ant: "Don't tell me what to do." 

Ant-with-the-crowd: "Well, the food is where we're all going, but hey, do whatever you want, it's your funeral." 

Single, independent-minded ant: "Looks to me like you've got a lot of competition. By the time you get to the food it'll all be eaten up, or else you'll have to fight for it and eat too quickly and get indigestion at best. When I find food, it'll just be me, I can relax, eat at my leisure. See you 'round!" 
He hurries off, ant-whistling, laughing.  

The ant-with-the-crowd mutters "damn fool" as the mob jostles him in their haste to get there before everybody else does. Wherever ‘there’ is, because nobody actually knows, they’re all going on blind faith based on somebody’s word. Hopefully. Of course, the whole thing might just be a rumor started by some jerk with a twisted sense of humor. Ant-with-the-crowd stares after the independent-minded ant, unsure for a few seconds. "Nah," he says to himself, "too risky. There must be food in this direction otherwise we wouldn't all be going there." 

“Who are you talking to?” says a crowd ant, “and move on, you’re stopping the flow.” 

“Don’t tell me what to do” says ant-with-the-crowd crossly. 

The other guy stares at him then hurries on, shaking his head, thinking “Weird. Must be some kind of mutant.” 

They both get to the food and there’s plenty of it, but ant-with-the-crowd gets pushed aside and stepped on and has to fight real hard to get anything. Bruised and battered and still somehow hungry for something he can't put his ant-finger on he tells himself “well, this is how life is.” But his mind keeps wandering to the independent-minded ant. What if he found food and lots of it and he’s having a feast now in peace and quiet? Ant-with-the-crowd gets jealous just thinking about it. 

As it happens, the independent-minded ant is crossing a veritable desert, tired, hungry and thirsty. He can’t see food or even a hint of the prospect of it and his rations will only last for a few more days. 

He doubts himself, “Should I have gone with the rest, what if I die out here, alone, unknown, unremembered because I needed to do my own thing?” He thinks about it. Did he really have a choice? Well, sure, but not one that his heart and soul and mind could ever have let him make. “Life is short” he says to himself, “and what’s the use of living if it’s not really living?”

“Well, what’s the use of living an independent life if it leads to your early death? What kind of living is that, huh?” says a sarcastic voice in his head. 

The debate goes on for a few seconds, utterly confounding and exhausting him. “There’s no answer to this” he says out loud angrily, frustrated beyond ant-endurance. 

The sound of his voice is reassuring. He shouts out “there’s no answer to that stupid effing question!” Something inside of him smiles and a little voice says quietly, kindly “Got that right, Jack. Let's hear it again, and put some real energy into it." Independent ant stamps his ant-feet and throws a real ant-tantrum, yelling and screaming to his heart's content. "Wow!" he says to himself and the world at large, "that felt good."  

"The thing is," the kind voice inside him says "what's the point of imagining the worst? It makes you want to give up. And you don’t know; food could be round the corner. So long as you keep on going you’ll find it.  

"Don’t think about starving until it’s actually happening. Use that imagination of yours to keep you buoyant. Don’t use it to condemn yourself to death, how pointless is that?”  

That makes sense to independent ant. He looks around. It is pretty beautiful. And it is good to be alive. And the truth is, he’d much be rather be having this adventure, challenging as it is, than be gorging with a million others on some pile of food that’s disappearing at the speed of light and that you have to eat so fast you can’t even taste it. 

Years later, a young independent-minded ant from a super conservative background, conflicted about going his own way, wanting to, needing to, but a little scared to take the risk, strolls past an ant-graveyard. Something makes him go in and look around. He finds an ant-tombstone with the inscription “He lived the way he needed to and when that meant crossing the desert he did it, and got to the other side. On the way he met the love of his life.” 

A shy voice says “That was my grandfather.”

The young ant turns to see a pretty young ant-thing standing with a bunch of ant-flowers. She lays them down, looks up at him. “You thinking of crossing the desert?” The young ant nods “Mm-hm. You?” 

She smiles at him. “Shall we do it together?”

                                               Call me a romantic.