Monday, February 09, 2009

grave thoughts

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Tiny ants inhabit my Cymbidium King Arthur “Round Table.” In the late afternoon, when the sun is out, they climb out of the tangled roots to explore, or sunbathe, or something. Mostly, they make their way back to the base by sunset, but I have found one or two meandering toward other parts of the room. For the most part, they do not get very far.

It’s easy to understand why these ants live here: orchids have to experience cold temperatures to produce buds and so my pots spent the fall season outdoors. There you have it: they spend a sizable amount of time in the company of bugs.

I called the orchid store and confirmed what I already suspected: the ants are relatively harmless to the plant. And so now comes the guilt. Whereas before, I would proceed defiantly with an afternoon ant hunt (between life of plant and life of the little belligerent invader, I chose life of plant), now I understand that ant squashing expeditions protect not life at all, but some sanitary standard I have borrowed from people who would regard indoor plant ants as evil.

Still, if you must know, I have terrible associations with the whole idea of indoor plant bugs. As a kid, I went to a birthday party of one of my Polish classmates. It was a fairly unstructured event and eventually, a number of the more restless kids found pleasure in picking bugs out of a plant on the windowsill and placing them in the shirt of Fella Fastman. I was living in the States then and visiting only briefly and so I did not understand the social dynamics at play. I have always wondered if Fella was picked on because she was one of the few Jewish girls in the class. Anti-Semitism was not discussed, not then anyway (the early 60s), but no one could deny that it festered and cruelly made its presence known.

Fella was stoic through it all. The party girl’s mother eventually was called in and she quickly organized a game of heads or tails. We flipped a Polish coin and guessed the outcome for a good many minutes and then went home.

Ed has suggested more than once that I should leave the ants alone. Sure, but Ed coexists with all sorts of life in his sheep shed. Life that I would have expelled a long time ago. Indeed, when I visit his shed, I chase said life outside when he isn’t looking. (I leave the cats alone: they have squatters rights.) It seems to me that if you invite life to your warm space on a Wisconsin winter day, word will spread and soon you wont find a quiet corner to yourself. Already a possum has been studying the cat door of his shed, learning in his slow way how the cats get in. (His permanent residence is under my unfinished writer’s shed.)

On summer days, I have sometimes felt saddened that a random footstep of mine stamps out life on a pavement or on a dirt path. At least the crushing force can be regarded as careless or accidental. Here, I am deliberately squashing meandering ants. The whole idea repels me.

But so do bugs inside the condo.

Sigh… spring can’t come fast enough. (Plants with ants will be invited to spend the season on my balcony again.)

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