The Ants Go Marching One By One, Hurrah, Hurrah
I like vacation, especially in an exotic foreign country with white-sand beaches, glittering water and a lovely lounge chair pulled up cozily beside the swimming pool, sunshade nearby if required. I prefer to lie in reverse on the lounger, with my head hanging off the end of the chair, because that is a comfortable position in which both to bask in the sun and to read whatever novel I have currently chosen. This time, the pool was the preferred location anyway, since the Wi-Fi would only pick up if one were seated nearby, and I had been earlier earning money online answering student questions for my part-time job as an online tutor. I had also already been in the pool for a nice, cooling dip, and while paddling around, I had noticed that there were honeybees that apparently had come to the pool for water and had been caught and drowned by the pool wavelets. Not trusting that these bees were actually good and drowned, and therefore, no longer stingable, I flipped several of the sad, little, water-logged carcasses out of the pool onto the side, where I was sure I would not be surprised by any stings.
While sunbathing, and reading of the latest exploits of the air-headed heroine who was assiduously fighting off the advances of the tall, dark and handsome type (of course), I noticed that there were some black ants roaming around the concrete and tile pool apron, searching for whatever they could find. Of course, one of them found a bee carcass, and was quite excited over the veritable feast he had discovered. Antennae waving madly, he (she??) thoroughly inspected this great find, even clambering over the bee a time or two, as though verifying the size and scope of the potential meal.
Intrigued, I watched. This little ant, deciding upon the best vantage point for pulling, grabbed hold of the bee and gave a mighty heave. Nothing. He readjusted his grip, and tried again. Nothing. He abandoned that side of the bee, and trudged off to the other side, whereupon he took another advantageous hold, and heaved again. Nothing. Stumped, he let go, turned in a circle (I do this myself sometimes when thinking), and, apparently stymied, he paused, obviously lost in deep thought. I thought to myself, “Give it up, dude. That’s like me trying to drag off an elephant.” But, undeterred, the little ant grabbed hold of a bee leg, and heaved yet again. This time something moved. The bee leg stretched out to full length, until the weight of the rest of the bee halted the celebrating-too-soon ant in his tracks, like a tied-up dog hitting the end of his tether. Another pause for thought, antennae waving madly. Then the determined, but not-too-bright little fellow chose another grip, and commenced to heaving, again unsuccessfully. Occasionally he would pause, but he always returned to the bee and tried again, as though absolutely unable to give up on all this potential food going to waste.
By this time I was feeling sorry for the courageous little dude, even if he wasn’t too smart. I reached out a cautious finger and gently nudged the bee in the direction the ant was tugging. Not realizing that he had help, the ant apparently decided it was working THIS time, and he kept pulling. As long as I helped, the ant figured he was making progress. After a few inches of this, I realized I was hungry, and left the ant to his own devices. I sat up and ate my sandwich, brushing the bread crumbs off me and my towel-draped lounger, and returned to the story of the slightly stupid, but brave beauty in the novel, who was now about to be predictably abducted by the handsome hero (of course).
That’s when I noticed that my sandwich crumbs had been discovered by all the ant’s friends, who were hoisting them over their heads like trophies, and happily trundling off to the nest with them. All the ants, that is, except for the dude who was tugging on the bee – he was still doggedly pulling on his erstwhile feast, ignoring the bounty of bread crumbs around him that were being rapidly collected and toted off by the other ants. I pondered this single-mindedness, wondering at the degree of dedication being displayed by this tiny creature. I considered times in my life when I had been faced with insurmountable obstacles, and decided that this little ant had far more determination than I had so far displayed in dealing with life’s occasional problems. Jeepers, sometimes I can’t even finish a hobby project! Then, as I watched, I saw that another ant had found the bee carcass, too. The newcomer inspected the find, along with the original ant, still stubbornly and unsuccessfully pulling. Then the newcomer chose a grip and gave a mighty heave. Lo, and behold: the bee moved.
I felt like cheering. Together, the two ants laboriously began the arduous task of shifting the great carcass back to the nest. They did not coordinate too well at times, occasionally pulling in different directions (like my husband and me in our marriage, I thought), but when they did pull together, the massive load moved (like my husband and me in our marriage). Slowly, but surely, they dragged that huge bee on the trail back to the nest. I watched for a while, then returned to the adventures of Miss Helpless and Beautiful, who was resisting seduction while being irresistibly attracted to her strong and manly kidnapper (of course). Every time I glanced up from the novel, I noticed that the ants had moved the bee further down the trail, visible only to them, towards their nest, off in the distance somewhere. At one point, they even dragged it over a water hose lying in their way: a veritable mountain of an obstacle, accomplished while dragging another mountain of food.
Becoming discouraged with the plight of the heroine, who was struggling with the conflict between being a good girl and giving in (of course), I sat up again, took another cooling dip in the pool, and returned to the lounger to give myself a pedicure. By this time, the bee-dragging ants were totally out of sight. As I trimmed my toenails and my cuticles, and applied a tasteful shade of mauve polish to my neatly trimmed nails, I saw that some of the trimmings had fallen to the tiles. One ant, finding a piece of toe cuticle skin, hoisted the piece up over his head like the bread crumb toting ants had done, and made off for the nest. As I watched him go, it occurred to me that all these foraging ants I had been observing were on expeditions to supply food to the other worker ants in the nest, and the queen. I wondered: will the queen be dining tonight on my toe?