Real life with ants and dirt

By Catherine Keefe

At first all I see is the trail. Chester is antsy this morning, fur ridged on his back, low growl rumbling deep as he walks beside me. Earlier, in the hazy blue hour between night and dawn, a chorus of coyote howls drifted in my open bedroom window. The neighbor we met a few minutes ago on the trail tells me he saw a coyote right there and it nipped at his golden retriever. I walk and scan and wonder why my usually calm dog is on high alert. 

Step by step though, we both slowly relax into the cadence of our hike and the gift of a foggy August morning. My attention turns from potential coyote ambush in the brush to keeping my eye on the trail to avoid rattlesnakes. Another neighbor’s dog was bit a few weeks ago and I don’t want to add to the yearly tally of snake bites. 

I notice a line in the sand, pause to examine a colony of ants stretched across the trail and silently marching off into the brush.

trailI wasn’t one of those Uncle Milton Ant Farm kids. I hate ants. Inside or outside, there are just too many of them, and not enough of me with any ability to reason with an insect about leaving the honey in my pantry alone. Unlike bees which pollinate, I have a hard time finding beauty or necessity in these beasts. They work tirelessly to find food and bring it back home, they work together in this endeavor, and defend their nest and when there’s danger they pack up their belongings and flee to new ground where they start all over again. Far as I can tell, they don’t complain, they just keep their heads down and get on with it.


Hmmm. I stoop down closer to observe each individual. One ant has a stinger, another carries a large piece of something, and a third leads the way home for the food-bearing ant. Even the dirt, which looks like a monochromatic trail from eye-height, unfolds as a collection of tiny multi-colored, multi-shaped rocks upon closer inspection.

Real life, this. Quite ordinary. Quite extraordinary. Every day a gift to unwrap if you can pause and truly see.

After my hike, I searched to see what poets had written about ants.  It turns out, quite a lot. I also searched Google images to see if I could learn what kind of ants these are. Best I can discern, they’re either carpenter ants which are benign, or fire ants which sting with venom. There’s a lot of information about how to kill ants too, more about that than poems.

But for today, I’ll let the ants live. This morning’s encounter, and Gary Soto‘s poem,”Failing in the Presence of Ants,” have me feeling a little more kindly toward this small example of “Real Life,” today’s August Break 2015 prompt. Here are a few lines to inspire you.

Failing in the Presence of Ants
By Gary Soto

We live to some purpose, daughter.
Across the park, among
The trees that give the eye
Something to do, let’s spreak
A blanket on the ground
And examine the ants, loose
Thread to an old coat.
They’re more human than we are.
They live for the female,
Raise their hurt, and fall earthward
For their small cause…

You can read the entire poem here: “Failing in the Presence of Ants.”
Where did you observe real life today in all its ordinary splendor?

In the thick of summer,

For more “Real life” images, check out The August Break, 2015, a community challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking out the more than 14,000 #augustbreak2015 posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

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