Learning from the Ants

If I ever get around to composing Uncle Doc’s Dynamic Illustrated Dictionary, I’ve already got the picture in mind for the word “opportunistic.”

It’s not going to be some polluted politician or some demented demagogue. No sirree, thank ye lads and lassies, it’s going to be something even more pervasive and persistent than that. Something that I think perfectly illustrates the notion defined by Oxford Languages as “exploiting chances offered by immediate circumstances without reference to a general plan or moral principle.”

The inspiration for this particular illustration stems from a few weeks of repairing and/or replacing wooden framing in our garage and our little barn. Two or three months ago, I tore out about twenty feet of foundation base plate in the garage. Also had to replace several vertical wall studs. In the past two weeks, Randa and I have torn out damaged sole plate, studs, and window framing in the barn.

Naturally, when I think of wood damage, I think of termites. Blasted little dendrological parasites, eating our homes and houses for lunch and leaving a trail of pine crumbs in their wake. Munching and crunching our carefully constructed dreams like a horde of angry Mongols. Yep, I’m sure of it; I hate ‘em.

And, in our labors and adventures of recent renovation, we’ve found some evidence of termite damage but no active infestations. What we have seen is an enlightening indication of the recent, present, and clearly intended future wood destroying capabilities of the common ant. Thousands of the little devils.

In a certain way of thinking, I see them as even more pernicious than termites. Termites eat wood; ants seem to just chew through it to make room for themselves. That’s their destructive device, making tunnels to the larger rooms they’ve cleared out inside our wooden frame members. Burrowing in, up, underneath, and beyond. Boldly going where no man has gone. Or can get to without tearing something up.

But the kicker on this, the trait earning their place in Uncle Doc’s Dynamic Illustrated Dictionary, is the way they take immediate advantage of any sort of hiding, nesting, sheltering, concealing themselves while prodigiously propagating, opportunity.

Set an unused black plastic salt block holder on the ground and come back in a few days and lift it up. Hundred of ants start scurrying around, frantically grabbing eggs and heading for their next chance. Set a board down on the ground and come back in a few days. Ditto. I’ve even found them trying to colonize the insides of the plastic tank on my forty-gallon, tractor-mounted, ten-foot boom sprayer!

Time and time again, I’ve picked up something lying around one of the buildings and found ants underneath. On Tuesday, I laid a damp tarp on a low retaining wall to dry off. It was folded in half. On Thursday afternoon, I picked the tarp up so I could finish folding it up and store it. As I was lifting it, I saw ants scurrying around on the gravel underneath the tarp. On a hunch, I opened it up. Sure enough, dozens of ants with their smug little schemes suddenly interrupted and interfered with, madly running about… inside the tarp that had been there less than forty-eight hours! Yep, I’m sure of it; I hate ‘em.

But even in the hate, I admit I am impressed with their capacity for rapid location and exploitation. Solomon admonished us lazy types thousands of years ago, Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6)

I didn’t have to go to the ants; they came to me. But I have considered their ways.

Cynical wisdom suggests that I surround my dwelling and its companion buildings with a ten-foot perimeter of concrete and saturate all exterior surfaces with deadly chemicals on a weekly, if not daily basis. A truer wisdom suggests that I lay up treasures in heaven where moth, rust, and ants can’t destroy.

If I were to become similarly opportunistic when it comes to doing good and obeying the Lord, it’d be no small treasure.

H. Arnett


About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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