When I was a young teen, freshly discovering the Joys of Puberty, I had an Ant Farm.
(Early Puberty does strange things to Not quite still Boys, but not quite Yet Men.)
Not one of those green and clear plastic toy ant farms. Oh, Hell No. This was hand-crafted and from fine pine two-by-fours. Two panes of 3/8” plate glass measuring thirty by twenty-four inches seated in the painstakingly mitered channels of the wood sandwiched the heavy Plaster of Paris block inside. In which I had meticulously carved all the ant-sized tunnels and oval shaped ‘ante-rooms’ for the ants to place the larvae and store the rations for a winter that would never come. For these were domesticated ants—house ants, if you will—I had willed them such. These tunnels and carved out spaces were painstakingly coated with clean sand using a strong, but non-toxic well-cured epoxy.
It seems I had always been fascinated by ‘every creeping thing… and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds…’ And ants were always at the top of my ‘Creepeth Hit Parade.’ Once I had my initial stock, I spent many a happy hour studying their daily perambulations. I loved them dearly.
“Yes Elizabeth, ‘tis a strange one, this boy…”
The problem was my ants were too much mortal, and always died off too soon. Woefully I would watch as the living carried the fallen up to the surface and piled them in one corner of the farm, taking the time to respectfully, it seemed to me, place them just so, re-stacking the funeral pyre if through my neglect I did not remove the excess bodies in a timely fashion, causing an ant-sized dry deluge of the departed.
After some research, I discovered that the worker ants died after a shorter predetermined length of time than I had previously believed. I had managed during my ant-excavations to capture nubile winged Princesses and the large-headed and virile winged Princes. Problem was, they could not fly high enough in my little ant utopia to consummate their nuptials.
What to do?
Discover and enslave a Queen. And of course I knew all along it must sooner or later come to this. I had hoped for later, but alas. I could not in good conscience, keep restocking my sterile ego of a closed system with workers who in reality had no firm purpose and no real meaningful existence, other than to daily heed the call to “Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!” I was forcing them to live a Sisyphean Sorrow, and I did harbor remorse for that.
I spent the better part of two summers searching for a queen for my ant farm. (Surely there must be some manner of metaphor or even allegory to be found therein.)
I would scout out the biggest, meanest ant mounds and methodically excavate them with a hoe, carving, peeling, madman like, layer by layer, like an onion so as to not overlook Her Majesty: Desperately hoping to find My Queen. I got stung, bitten, ravished, and generally harried and harassed by the noble and fearless workers. (Which are all female, by the way; Now run tell that!) I scraped down…down…down… All in a vain searching attempt to find the queen who would make my farm whole and self-sustaining.
I never found her. She was too deep, too elusive, too protected, too well hidden from me. Perhaps she did not really exist at all? And never did. Who knows? I have never in all my anting days, seen Ant Matriarchal Royalty. Perhaps the eggs are exuded from some ant fungus in the summer-warmed earth? Perhaps from some mutually beneficial agreement signed eons ago, betwixt Bacteria and ‘Antdom’ provided the means for both species to survive?
These are the ponderous questions that eventually came to plague my dreams like so many Harpies. And so I gave up Mythical Queens shortly thereafter and put my mind and my bodily efforts toward the pursuit of the real-life warm, touchable, see-able, lovable flesh and Heart-Felt fulfillment to be had from the interactions with Cheerleaders and Majorettes.
The ants had expedited my metamorphosis from a some-time boy into a full-time young man.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
And p.s. gentile (pun) reader: Please do not mistake my quoting of King James Version, as testament of Christianity, ‘fore I can quote Edith Hamilton just as easily.
Thanks to all who read.