Messing Up Ant Pheromones

Lying on the floor reading several days ago, I noticed a tiny ant traipsing along, proudly waving some kind of delectable twice its size overhead like a banner. Then I saw another...and another...and...good grief, they were everywhere, scurrying to and fro, carrying unidentifiable forms of ant food. Apparently they've established an outpost in my living room, and the carpet in my workspace is heavily trafficked. They're so small and the carpet camouflages them so well that I never realized how many there really are.

So today I got down to business. I began by vacuuming the carpet thoroughly with my Hoover vacuum cleaner, which is powerful enough to ingest anything within three feet of it that isn't bolted to the floor--but no, not good enough. In short order the ants were back, parading their foodstuff in triumph.

This could not be allowed to continue. After researching about ant control online, I misted the carpet with white vinegar, which messes up the ants' pheromone trails so they don't know which way they're headed and they lose all sense of meaning and purpose in life. Many grow depressed. It's a weird thing to hear scores of despondent ants weeping, the sound of their lamentations drifting up faintly from the floor.

The carpet now smelled like a giant foot, but that was a small price to pay for messing with an ant colony's pheromones. Now for my next step. I headed to the store and purchased ant spray, borax, and a bag of diatomaceous earth, a powder so fine that it sifts inside an ant's exoskeleton, slices it up, and desiccates the ant. Picture hundreds upon hundreds of wee little mummified ants. Or don't. It's up to you.

Back home, I took the can of ant spray and sprayed all around the baseboard and door frame inside, and outside along the patio. Then, following the directions on the bag of diatomaceous earth, I sprinkled handfuls of the stuff all over the carpet in the ant-infested area. Heh, heh! I thought. This ought to sort the little buggers. I just, according to the directions, needed to work the powder into the carpet with a broom.

Did you know that diatomaceous earth is so incredibly, almost molecularly, fine that it acts like mud even when it's dry? It doesn't "work into the carpet"; what it does is sort of smear all over the place in big white blotches and streaks that do not, no matter how hard and long you sweep, go gently into that good nap. Nope. Once those blotches are there, by golly, there they are. Only time and repeated vacuuming will make them go bye-bye.

Ah, well. The ants are in for a time of it, anyway. Now to complete the job by mixing up a paste of borax and corn syrup. Supposedly ants love the stuff, and they'll cart it back to their nest, where it will slowly poison the whole colony.

Ant spray, diatomaceous earth, and borax--three-pronged hell descends on the ants in my living room. This better work, that's all I can say. Gadz, the carpet looks like a disaster.

For the Love of a Tree

Child of the Monarch

Child of the Monarch

Across the stream behind my late-boyhood home in Cascade, Michigan, there stretched a forest where hepaticas bloomed purple and pink in the spring, profusions of trilliums scattered like popcorn beneath the understory, and colonies of downy rattlesnake plantain and shining club moss nestled amidst a sprawl of partridgeberry. A network of trails, known well to my feet, led up and down wooded hillsides, over streams, and across clearings past the stone ruins of pioneer homesteads, all the way to the banks of the Thornapple River a mile away.

In that forest, not far from my house, a tall old white pine stood sentinel on a hillock overlooking a tiny swamp. During the awkward and often painful years between twelve and eighteen, when a boy goes through his confusing transition to early manhood, that white pine became my friend.

It was a magnificent tree whose bark had long ago roughened from the gray slickness of a sapling to the brown, rugged furrows of a monarch. To say it was a wise old tree would be to impose too much on it. It was a tree. But it knew how to listen. And it knew how to welcome me to its sheltering shadow, where a circle of soft, fragrant needles spread like a blanket on the forest duff. There I could lay me down in the shade and silence, and look up through the branches at the clouds passing over, and smell the piney air, and simply be. I had a place to go and think and pray, and a great pine to talk to whose murmur in the breeze became all the reply and exactly the companionship I needed.

When life got difficult, as it often did, I would go to my friend the tree. It was always there. My place, my tree. My good friend. My beloved white pine.

In the spring of my eighteenth year, the sound of chain saws invaded the woods. Next came the bulldozers, and shortly after, the inevitable. There came an afternoon when I arrived home from school to find a massive strip of raw earth carved through the woods, down the hill to the edge of Trout Creek. The beautiful, tall tamaracks, which for years had lit the swamp like candle flames in the fall, had been thrust heedlessly aside. And sprawling in their shattered midst, its branches reaching skyward in mute supplication, lay my friend the white pine.

I dropped my books, ran across the homemade plywood bridge that spanned the creek, and rushed up the slope to where my pine tree lay. Tenderly I stroked its branches. And as golden pine pollen rose about me in a cloud, I wept. My friend—my dear, dear old friend. My heart is broken. I will miss you so!

Ten or twenty feet distant, just beyond the ruin of the bulldozer, I spotted a pine seedling, no more than a foot and a half tall. Undoubtedly it was the child of my giant white pine.

I recrossed the bridge, picked up my books, and headed to the house. In the garage, I grabbed a shovel. Then I headed back across the creek, and I dug up the tiny white pine, and I took it home and planted it in the side yard next to the garden.

That was more than forty years ago. My father died ten years later, my mother and sister moved to Grand Rapids, and in the ensuing years I have rarely visited the old neighborhood. But this evening I drove past the house on the corner of Tanglewood and Tricklewood Drives. It looks well kept, and the yard has filled in beautifully with trees. And there on the side, the white pine I planted long ago is growing still. I would like to say it has attained stately height and dimensions, but it appears that the homeowners have trimmed it so that it resembles a white pine bush rather than a tree. Nevertheless, it is vigorous, and I am satisfied that my old friend and confidant from decades past lives on in one of his progeny. The owners haven't a clue as to the origins of their pine bush. But I do. I am part of the story.

My friend the white pine gave me his shade, his fragrance, his patient presence, and a place to talk to God and rest my teenage soul. In return, I gave my friend's offspring a chance beyond the earthmovers that converted a noble forest into backyards where wild orchids no longer grow nor ruffed grouse drum in the spring.

I did it for the love of a tree. It was what I could do; it was the least I could do. And I am glad today to know that my small deed was not in vain. My friend's lineage continues, and with me his memory remains, golden, like pine pollen rising as a cloud and glowing in the sun.

   

The Squirrel on the Screen Door

I'm sitting here in my couch, editing some Bible study notes on my laptop, when I hear something go "whump!" I glance left toward the patio and see that a squirrel has jumped up onto the screen door and attached himself like Velcro. "Okay, pal," I think, "now that you've gained that position, what do you intend to do with it?" From what I can see, it doesn't offer any advantage over the patio, which is strewn with scrumptious sunflower seeds. But a squirrel will explore; squirrels are as curious as cats. So after taking a minute to contemplate his next move, this little bugger starts working his way up the screen till he's reached the top. This accomplishes nothing of any value for him, but it does put him in a particularly vulnerable situation which, for me, offers the potential for some brief amusement. I get up and tear open the glass sliding door right in front of him. Did you know that squirrels are equipped with a powerful inner spring? It is triggered by the startle factor; the more sudden the surprise, the mightier the jolt from the spring and the greater the distance it will launch the squirrel. I'd give this one about ten feet. At my old apartment, I had a squirrel catapult. Here I don't think I need one. I have a screen door.