Photo Credit: Steve Shattuck
Some of you may remember that towards the end of last month, a swarm of tiny black ants formed on the sidewalk in front of my garden. I, of course, didn’t know how many there were but in my shock it looked like millions! I didn’t want to kill them but I also didn’t want that many ants, and potentially more, in my garden. I also didn’t want anyone to accidentally stand in them. After pondering the dilemma for a short time, I decided to wash them away with water from a hose. That solution worked and the ants never came back.
When I wrote about that event in Discrimination Opportunity, a blogging friend responded that he understood black ants to be harmless. In pondering his words, I realized that I had moved to action very quickly. I had been stung by red ants in the past after I unwittingly stood on or near their hills. Even one bite from a red ant can be very painful, and being bit by a large number of them is something I will never forget. Did that memory cause me to act too fast?
As I continued to reflect on my action, I realized that a child would be terrified if that many ants were crawling on them, even if they weren’t being stung. I concluded that my washing the ants away was a reasonable response, but I wasn’t sure that I was right.
Prior to that event, I had seen a few big black ants in my living room. After the incident with the tiny ants in the garden, more of those big ants showed up, both inside and outside of the house. Two ant events in a short period of time made me wonder what was going on.
When I become conscious of an animal, bird or other living being repetitively showing up in my life, I sometimes look to see what that creature symbolizes in Native American traditions. I googled “native american medicine ant” and found Dr. Loretta Standley’s website. She says this about ant medicine:
When Ant Medicine grabs your attention it is asking you to cooperate with your tribe (co-workers, family, projects, etc.,) in unity and patience. Ants are resolute and unwearied little creatures. Although they are tiny, they are indeed mighty. They have a strong skeleton on the “outside” of their body (exoskeleton) with specialized muscles that give them their strength. Ants can carry 30 times their weight, which would be equal to a 150 lb. person carrying a bulldozer on their back at 19,500 lbs.
The typical way to stop ant medicine is to literally stomp on it or fumigate it. If an ant is stomped on, it will emit pheromones that will draw more ants to the area. In short, ant medicine is unstoppable, tireless, patient and unified.
Ant’s message is about working non-stop toward your goals and forging ahead for the Good of the whole. Are you working on a project that benefits a larger audience? Have you been ignoring your tribe? Ant medicine cooperates with the tribe in harmony and wisdom toward a common goal, knowing that patience will be rewarded. Have you been cooperating with yourself on your own personal projects?
I was intrigued. Just the day before, I had met with two colleagues to clear up some long standing issues between us and was going to do the same with another friend the next day. I thought the “ant medicine” perspective was valuable and would ponder the questions Dr. Standley put forth. Now that I had this information would the ants go away?
Nope! If anything, the number of ants increased. I did more research and discovered the ants were carpenter ants. Everything I read indicated that I would probably have to call a professional pest control company to keep them from damaging my house. While there were still not that many ants, over the next few days their numbers continued to increase. Their favorite location seemed to be on my front porch.
I decided to take the time to observe them and see where they came from, where they were going and what they were doing. As I watched, I noticed that there were some small holes, or perhaps just indentations, in the caulking near the front door. The ants went to those holes over and over again. Even though the ants never went inside of them, it seemed like the holes were getting bigger. Maybe the ants were breaking down the caulking. They also went to a place next to the bottom corners of the door where some wires, probably old wires from broadband television hook ups, were located.
The following day there were even more ants on the porch. Anytime I left the door open even for a minute, the ants tried to get into the house. I decided I couldn’t continue doing this so called pest control. I made an appointment for them to do an assessment the following week.
I remembered hearing that spreading cinnamon powder could repel ants. It hadn’t worked very well in India when I tried it there, but I didn’t want to kill these ants unless it was absolutely necessary, so I spread some cinnamon in front of the door and in the areas where the wires were located. The number of ants decreased immediately but some still made their way through the cinnamon.
The next morning, I looked outside to see what was happening. There were three dead ants on the porch. Two were by themselves; the third was being pulled away by a live ant. The dead ant had a little different coloring than the rest of the ants. When I had looked up carpenter ants on the internet, I had noticed that the queen ant had different coloring than the workers so I wondered if the one being pulled away was a queen. I questioned whether a queen would be on the porch with a worker, but it seemed like a possible explanation as to why the black ant was trying to carry her away.
The live ant spent the whole day trying to drag the dead one from the porch. He seemed disoriented so I believed that he was probably also under the influence of the cinnamon.
I had thought the cinnamon would repel the ants, not kill them. My heart felt heavy as I watched his efforts. As I felt my feelings, I was struck by how much I have changed. I was raised in an era when we killed bugs, flies, spiders, and beetles, with swatters and insect spray, and here I was mourning the death of three ants and feeling compassion for the one who was taking such care to move the dead one.
I watched that process throughout the day, and noticed that no other ants ever came onto the porch. It has been almost two weeks since all of this happened and I have only seen two or three carpenter ants in or outside of my house during that time. They appear to be gone.
But my story doesn’t end there. There are two more related events!
During one of the psychotherapy groups I led the first week in June, an ant walked through the room. One of my clients immediately smashed it. As I thought about his action during the following week, I realized it was a good teaching opportunity. In the next group, I asked him if I could do a regression piece with him (a role play where he acted as if he was an eight year old and I was a healthy parent). He said yes so I talked to his eight year old about ants and what he thought should happen to them if they were in the house. We also talked about spiders. After we discussed his belief that they should be killed, I asked if he wanted to try something different. He was interested. I offered him the opportunity to be in charge of catching and releasing all bugs, spiders, and ants that might wander into the group room. He liked that idea and accepted the challenge. This past week an ant came into the room and he had his first experience of catching an ant and taking it outside!
The second incident occurred yesterday, the day I started writing this post. That morning, a friend phoned and said she wanted to talk to me about the morality of killing carpenter ants! Her situation was very different than mine in that there were a huge number of ants involved, but the timing amazed me. How interconnected we all are as we learn what we need to learn on our life journeys.
Am I done with the ant lesson? I don’t know; only time will tell. What I do know is that I have gained much from these occurrences. I see that I had an opportunity to:
- Be thoughtful before taking an action that effects one of Mother Nature’s creatures.
- Feel compassion for a creature as small as an ant.
- Consider ways of thinking that are outside my normal experience, e.g. the Native American perspective.
- Hear feedback and reflect on it.
- Not criticize myself when I took action not knowing for sure what was right.
- Learn from a previous experience, e.g. the ant swarm event prepared me for the carpenter ants
- Share my experience with others, e.g. talking with my friend and to those who read this post.
- Teach a new way to respect nature to a regressed 8 year old.
- Be reminded that if I take my time, the answers will come.
- See how all beings are interconnected.
- Reflect on how much my attitudes towards live creatures have changed throughout my lifetime.
I feel very grateful for all I have experienced and learned as the result of this ant “lesson.”