An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of May 19, 2007
Issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve Headquarters in
Jalpan, Querétaro, MÉXICO

ANTS IN MY CASITA

I've mentioned how life in rural and small-town Mexico reminds me more of my childhood in rural and small- town Kentucky, back in the 50s, than rural and small- town Kentucky does today. One of the similarities is ants. On hot summer days back then lines of ants infiltrated our kitchen no matter how hard we tried to keep it clean. Ants in the sugar bowl, ants in the cereal box, ants up and down the molasses jar. Clean the cabinets again and again, wash with detergent, change the shelf paper, and ants still found something, maybe a loosely wrapped cube of yeast or a bag of meal with a pinprick in its bottom.

You'd think that my tiny casita, with a concrete floor just wide enough to lie stretched-out on, and the only furniture consisting of a metal desk, a chair and a tall, gangly, four-tiered wooden platform with open sides, would be easy to keep clean enough to keep ants out. But, sweep and scrub as I may, the ants just keep coming.

They eat holes in the plastic bags holding my peanuts, leaving me empty shells. Two or three dry flakes of oatmeal spilled accidentally when I shoveled out my breakfast fuel an ant-line for hours. I keep vinegar in a plastic bottle with a tightly fitting lid and right now on the shelf I see a whole platoon of ants dangling on the lower rim of the bottle's blue cap, apparently feasting on what I can't see, can't imagine what might be there, and just can't seem to clean off.

What's impressive is that these ants make such efforts and endure such sacrifices for the sake of such tiny measures of food. Just look at the deadly, strenuous long-march they make to harvest the slight film of milk inside my milk carton, which I rinsed before putting aside.

In a way, this week's ant wars, the cormorants depredating schools of fish, and even the slight sweetness/ slight bitterness of the Guamuchil pods all contributed to a "message" Nature seems to have been sending me all week.

For, every time someone accidentally steps on my ant line you can see in terms of squashed ants the sacrifices the ant colony makes for three or four flakes of dry oatmeal. How many eons did it take for ant-colony-wisdom to incorporate the understanding of how many dead citizens a few calories of carbohydrate are worth? Similarly, how many thousands of cormorant generations endured cyclical fish famines before evolution programmed cormorants to eat just so much, then spend hours with their wings spread out, warming in the sunlight? How many generations of Guamuchil trees produced pods too sweet or too bitter before just the right balance was accomplished to assure that the white aril was sweet enough to attract seed-disseminators, but was bitter enough to avoid wholesale destruction through overeating?

Unless one is blinded by the dangerous belief that for some reason the Universal Creative Force has granted the Earthly human animal a special dispensation from Nature's laws, then it should be clear that ants, cormorants and Guamuchil trees all reveal profound wisdom relevant to our own species' long-term survival.

Moreover, having good brains, we humans should be able to avoid Nature's usual way of settling accounts -- through starvation, conflict and diseases -- by rationally and voluntarily controlling our numbers and appetites.