The Ant Farm

by Trudi C.
(Toronto ON)

“You girls! I don’t know what’s so hard or distasteful about feeding the ants. All you have to do is drop in a little food and few droplets of water, and that’s it? It’s not like they’ll crawl out when you’re doing it!” Dave just shrugged as Cathy and the girls shrieked in disgust.

“And please don’t forget”, Cathy added lightly touching his shoulder, “to take the garbage and the recycling box out of the garage tomorrow morning. It’s beginning to smell in there.”

“There are four people living in this house, why is left for me to do?” Dave asked, but Cathy didn’t reply.

Stepping into his son’s room, Dave looked around at the hockey trophies, and the various pictures of Pete with his friends. Time goes by so fast. Gosh Petey was twelve when he got his first ant farm. Dave chuckled as the memories came back. The poor kid didn’t know the ants wouldn’t live longer than three months!

“Is that why they’re dying?” Petey had asked him with wide dewy eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me, Pop?”

Dave had stopped himself from telling Petey that he was hoping his son would have gotten tired of them by then. “Well, we can get a queen,” he offered. She’ll lay hundreds of eggs, but we’ll need more farms, and they’ll need connecting tubes to get from one to the other. But we’ll have to keep the population in check.”

So what started out as a single ant farm soon developed into interconnected ant farms that took up one side of Petey’s room. Dave drew up a chair and for what seemed like the first time, he actually watched the industrious little creatures. They’re just like me, working day after day to provide for the queen and her offspring. Their lives, seemingly patterned after his own, were filled with similar regimented and repetitive tasks performed without feeling. He shook his head realizing that tending to the ant farm had now become just one more duty.

Although the ants only needed to be fed every other day, Dave would stop and check up on them every time he passed Petey’s room. Once he explained to Cathy that watching the little guys helped him unwind, so she would stop giving him her compassionate look. She should be concerned, he thought. Something’s wrong for a grown man to not only sit here for hours at a time, but who could also tell you what new tunnels had been made, and how the larvae were doing.

Dave eventually realized that one of the little ants would appear against the glass and stare at him. He knew they had eyes, compounded eyes, but was it possible for this little guy to be aware of him. Dave tested the little guy three days in a row. Sure enough, when Dave came into the room, the little guy would appear against the glass. Dave even sat in different spots, and the little guy would hunt him down, and stare back at him.

When he had brought Cathy and the girls up to watch, he listened to their explanations about vibrations as he walked, or that it was sensing sound, but he still felt the ant had become conscious of him. “Ants don’t just stop working”, he protested. “Watch them. They all go about their tasks, never once paying the least bit of attention to what goes on outside their glass walls. Look.”

They looked, and then they looked back at Dave.

“I’m not crazy. The little guy is aware of me.” Dave wanted them desperately to believe him.

“Maybe you shouldn’t spend so much time in here, Dave.” Cathy said walking up and sliding her arm around his waist.

“Please don’t.” Dave said stepping back. “I’m not crazy. Little Adam knows I exist. He’s become conscious of the reality outside of his tiny little world.”

“Girls, it’s okay.” Cathy motioned with her head for them to leave.

“Dave, you’ve named an ant! Do you realize something is wrong, big-time wrong, when a person names an ant? I understand, really I do. When Pete left for college, I would come in here and smell his closet. So maybe this is your way of coping with Pete’s big step toward manhood and independence?”

“By naming an ant?” Dave was upset. “Cathy, I’m not that pathetic. Sure I miss Pete, but what has happened here is big scientific news. An ant has developed some sort of consciousness about the world around him.”

“So, you think what – that he looks at you like you’re his master, or a god?”

“I don’t know, but you must admit it’s odd. Isn’t it?”

“Oh yes, it’s definitely odd, and I think you should seek professional help?”

“That’s it. Petey’s professor. I’ll have Petey talk to his biology professor and you’ll see, he’ll probably agree with me.” Dave was up in flash and raced down the fall to the phone in their bedroom.

“Hey pop, what’s up? Is mom all right?” Pete had an edge to his voice that Dave hadn’t heard before.

“Oh she’s fine. Everyone’s fine. It’s like this son. I’ve taken over your ant farm, and something incredulous has happened. One of the ants is aware of my presence. The little guy will dig to the glass to see me, and will watch me as long as I watch him. He stops working just to watch me?”

Since Petey hadn’t said anything, Dave continued. “What I want you to do is speak with your professor and ask him if an ant can develop some sort of interest in a higher species?”

“Dad, you’re pulling my leg, right?”

“No. I’m serious. The little guy is aware of me.”

“The little guy?”

“Well, truthfully, I call him Adam. It’s easier that way?”

“Pop, you’re scaring me! This whole story! And why is it easier to call an ant Adam?”

“I don’t know, it just is. Look, will you ask your professor and let me know. Remember they don’t live forever and if your Prof wants to check Adam out, or some other scientist, remember time is of the essence.”

Dave half-heartedly listened as Pete reluctantly agreed to talk to his Prof, because his mind had grasped the implications of Adam’s short life. What would be the point of realizing that there is a higher live form, and never living long enough to understand it, and never being able to use the information anyway?

Dave hung up the phone and lumbered down to the living and sat beside Cathy on the sofa. “What do you think the purpose of life is?”

“Can’t that wait for a commercial?” Cathy muttered, focusing on the television.

“No. It shouldn’t have to.”

“You know you’re beginning to scare me. First the hours spent with the ants, then naming an ant, and now ‘what is the purpose of life’? I wish you would see a specialist.”

“Well, haven’t you ever asked yourself that?”

“Well, in practical terms, the purpose of life to me was to have children, to pass on what I’ve learned and understood, and maybe, vainly perhaps, to pass on a little of me in them.”

“Do you think there’s a higher life form then us?”

“Dave, are you thinking in terms of extraterrestrials or a supreme being?”

“More towards a supreme being? What if there really is a God but we’re just too busy with all the grunt work to become aware of him?”

“This has to do with that stupid ant doesn’t it?”

“In a way. What if I am missing the point? What if there is a God, and a plan, and I’ve just been too busy to be aware of it? Of the millions, no billions, of people who have lived and who will live, maybe only a few become aware of God’s presence?”

Cathy didn’t answer him.

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