Last Thursday AV, JV and I continued on cleaning up the last third of our back yard. When we bought our home, the back yard had not been touched in many years. We divided the yard into three areas. The first two years were spent burning the five years of accumulated leaves: fall (sweet gum) and spring (live oak). We had the sweet gum removed not just because our bare feet aren’t fond of the gum balls but because I could reach out of my kitchen window and touch the 3.5 foot diameter trunk. Sigh. Last year we had the live oak thinned and added raised beds for a garden.
This year we finally made it over to the third quadrant of the back yard – the lower trunk of the sweet gum (4 pieces that were too large for Charleston’s generous debris pick-up or a local furniture maker to salvage) and un-checked azalea bushes plus the five years of leaves. This year will be know to the family as the year EV found out that she has overdosed on Virginia Creeper proteins and had a masssssssive allergic reaction, but that is for another story.
All that aside, for me personally, this is the year we transcended time and space. Somewhere in the thinning of azalea bush number one, the pruning of the wild rose, and the removal of the fox grape vines JV discovered a group of ants hauling a dead roach back to their hole in one of the rotting trunk pieces. We all laid down on our stomachs and watched the ants and watched the ants and watched the ants.
They were hauling the roach up a nearly vertical surface to a chainsaw nick about half way up the trunk. We were mesmerized. We cheered when the one ant with a great grip on a dangling leg kept the whole process from starting over. We realized the futility of saying, “hurry-up” or, “come on,” but we still talked to the ants. We waited with baited breath for the other ants to find where the roach was now dangling and rally around it to shove upwards again. We watched while we pulled other ants and grass spiders from each other – subconsciously becoming more aware of the insects that surround us in our yard.
At one point my mind wandered to my dad, Samuel Clemons, Henry David Thoreau, the ancient Greek and 12th century Arab scientists, Solomon, and even Newton. All of these folks told stories of their exploits watching ants. They all became observers of the tiny world around them and this informed their view of the whole universe.
My dad, who I called about the Virginia Creeper reaction, gave me more knowledge about dealing with it than Google did. He sees the grander of the Creator in the searching ants in his garden.
Samuel Clemons has a wonderful short story which tells of the fighting of the red and black ants in the afternoon sun.
Thoreau made a living about talking about preserving the natural world.
The Greeks discussed entire societies and based them on their observations and conclusions of the natural world.
The Arabs discovered how ant families follow each other around and hypothesized about pheromones and scent trails.
Solomon watched ants and discussed productivity in a society based on these observations.
Newton’s whole problem is that he looked at everything from the tiny ants in his childhood to the galaxies in his adult world and saw non-linear patterns – calculus was what he created to make sense of his world.
Only one thing was needed to travel with the past generations – time.
Time to pause.
Time to wonder.
Time to be caught up in the details happening under our feet.
The inquisitive mind is the gift the child brings to spending time out doors and being observant of our world. Creating a time for the child to engage their mind with nature is my gift.
Side note here: Watching nature shows is not observing nature. It is getting disjointed facts from an edited, hyped, ratings driven show. Rant over.
The boys didn’t try to fit it into information they had received on the Nature or Natural Geographic channels (which might be because they only get to watch cable a couple of times a year) or one-up the simple ants we were watching with discussions of killer ants or allow fear to guide them – spiders, the dirt, or the near universal fear of all ants must be fire ants. They observed. Occasionally discussing a distinction in the classes of ants at the nest but only so much as to inform their observation. Mainly we were silent.
Silence, peace, and comfort, observation. Work.