I went to clean the spare room to ready it for painting the walls white instead of the sickly yellow they were painted by the previous owner and discovered a pile of fine sawdust in a corner. I didn’t put the sawdust there so I start to think about explanations for it’s existence. My immediate and very hopeful thought is that it’s Doozers from Fraggle Rock, moved in and doing what Doozers do behind the wall cos, well, that’d be cool. Of course, more probably, it’s some kind of insect or beetle chewing the hell out of the structure of the house which would not be so cool.
God I sure hope it’s Doozers.
I ask the very sweet and helpful young man who has been doing some construction work to help me investigate, and, he suggests that it’s not Doozers. Bugger. Instead he thinks I have carpenter ants - which is seriously not fucking cool.
I’m generally happy to live in harmony with lots of bugs and insects. Spiders don’t bother me and I like worms and even things like slugs and slaters are not horrifying. They’re annoying but they don’t make me freak out perhaps because I don’t really like cabbage or cauliflower that much which seems to be what they love to attack so we’re not ever really competing. I’m slightly bothered by some caterpillars but that's only because I know they’ll eat some plants that I really like, but they mostly change into beautiful butterflies so they can be forgiven their trespasses as I hope they can forgive me, mine.
Perhaps this lack of concern comes from a life outside gardening and from growing up with parents who were constantly wowed by insect life going on in our garden; cicadas climbing up our lemon tree and leaving their skins behind, monarch caterpillars becoming butterflies, worms eating our food rubbish to make into lush compost. All were looked and inspected with awe - ”come look at this!” - was a fairly constant refrain in my childhood. And, perhaps my lack of fear is also because in NZ there really isn't anything bug wise that can do one much harm. The most dangerous thing I can think of in terms of bugs is the Katipo spider, which is very rare, seems to mostly live on a beach about 300 miles from where my family have a home and although it'll hurt like hell if you do manage to get bitten by one, it’s not lethal. But that's really about it in NZ...even mosquitos which transport triple E in the US don't carry germs like that in NZ. There's no ticks either. So my general level of action around insects and bugs is fairly low. But I’m thinking perhaps this current Ant issue might need some action.
When I was around six years old I was sitting on our dirt driveway looking at the ants coming and going, they were oblivious to me. At that time, God as some Big Dude in the sky watching us was a concept I grasped vaguely but had some trouble with the details of how he could be sitting up there and I wasn unable to see him. On this day, looking at those ants, through my mind went the idea that God might be to us as I am to these ants. Could that be possible? Could God just be a being that is 14,000,000 times bigger than me like I am 14,000,000 times bigger than that ant there? Ants can’t comprehend me, they can’t see me in any real way, yet I can come along and disturb their world or look after them. Perhaps I just can't see God because he is 14,000,000 times bigger than me. And, like that dude in the heavens, here I am with massive power over these small beings, I can choose whether to be benevolent, or I can mess with them. I can blow on them and that'd feel a bit like a hurricane, I can move a stone in their path and that'd feel like an avalanche, I can dig a trench and it'd be like an earthquake. I doubt there are any ant scholars or physicists or environmental scientists attempting to figure us out, but there is really no way to know, perhaps they are praying really hard to us and we just can’t hear them.
I think about some of the world-altering events that ants have to deal with. We often drop large objects into the middle of their world; I'm not sure I'd cope well if I was walking along, taking the groceries to my house and suddenly an obstacle the size of a two story building were dropped in my direct path for me to navigate my way around. I also doubt I'd like it if I was going about my day and then bam, the thing I was walking on was picked up and flung miles away. And, I'm fairly positive I'd not do that well if I was hanging out with a bunch of others, say waiting in line for a buffet at a wedding for instance, and half my buddies were swept away by some large sticks accompanied by a screeching noise (my aunt with a broom having discovered a bunch of ants by the block of cheese she left of the counter). I really think I'd be pissed.
However, considering the havoc we knowingly or unknowingly wreak on innocent wee things the dude in the sky is definitely a ton more considerate and benevolent than we are. Or, maybe God has us in a big container so that he can observe us from the outside to avoid messing with us too badly; like an ant formicarium - look those up on Pinterest, there's some beauties. If that's the case, then God’s formicarium must be pretty massive, like a big suspended bubble that’s maybe on a slow automated spin cycle.
If I was God and I had one of those I’d call it “The Universe”. And every so often I’d hold it in my hands like one of those cool glass globes at science museums where you can see lightening come to your finger tips and I’d kinda roll it around and see what happened to things inside. I’d never shake it like a snow globe…but, I’m not god so, and given the evidence of what we do to ants, as a wee little thing perhaps 14,000,000 smaller than that dude, I think it might be good to be prepared for anything.
Age 13 or so we watched a National Geographic program about “Soldier Ants”. Those buggers, otherwise known as Army Ants, go on massive raids in huge numbers, they take down everything in their path; horses, cows...people. They're a bit like locusts but they're on the ground. They have no nest as they are constantly on the move, making bivouacs on the way, that they camp out in for a few days at a time and then they move forward again, en masse, eating everything in their path. The queens produce 3-4 million baby ants every month, that’s a shit-ton of little things that grow into bigger chewing things.
After seeing that program, in which ants swarmed across a farm and ate everything on their way, I couldn’t sleep for days thinking they’d come through the house and chew us all. I lay awake feeling them coming into the bed and crawling all over me. After two or three days of not sleeping I eventually told mum, she told me that those types of ants only live in Africa and South America, a fact I’d clearly not digested from the program, it has to be said that the relief was pretty profound. As extensive as my world travels have been I've never felt the urge to go to either of those locales, I wonder why? If you’re interested and want to horrify yourself, the National Geographic still has a video of a portion of that program online.
The ants I have behind the wall are somewhere between the wee scurrying, relatively harmless things that come into our homes or invade our picnics and climb up our legs at random and inopportune moments and the Army Ants from the national Geographic program, they’re neither harmless nor are they going to eat my body or the body of my loved ones. However, over time, they are going to eat my home. They appear to be starting that endeavour from my attic.
Having found this invasion I realise it's time to head to the hardware store once again, this time to get some pestilence control. Kitted out with some ant bait, an insect fogger and some supplies for the construction guys, I head back to the cabin ready to deal some serious dealing to the ants. Sadly the fogger requires that the house be vacated for 4 hours at least, and so, seeing as that couldn't happen today I go on a scout to see if I can find where these chaps are coming from so I can lay bait down for them. The bait is supposed to get carried back to the queen by diligent workers, therefore killing the source of the issue.
Investigation shows that they come from across the yard up the porch post and from there they vanish inside the wall and head to the attic. I want to see what they’re doing up there so I go to take a look. Getting into the attic is always a bit of a challenge and not really somewhere I like to visit unless I have to. This seems to be a case of “have to”. I carry my headlamp, climb up through the cupboard, and crawl across the rafters to the end of the house to the corner where the sawdust was seen. And then…I say “faaaarck”. This is not some little sprinkling of sawdust left behind by a few chews, nope, the bastards have chewed a massive pile of wood. There are a couple of big piles of sawdust, like enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket, and there are a ton of ants scurrying about. Most of the ants up in the attic look different from the ones I’ve seen in the yard, they're bigger and some of them have wings. I guess the ones in the yard are the workers – they bring food to and from these bastards up here which are the eaters - the ones chewing my house down.
I think, fuck this I am not waiting for some little worker to happen to take some food to the queen that maybe kills her in a few days! No fucking way - their ability to take down my house overnight is fairly clear and I am gonna kill these bastards before they do that. So it’s back to the hardware store to find some spray to kill them at the site of their chewing activity. The hardware store attendant suggests the best spray to use. Here’s some advice - always take hardware store attendants advice. I know they generally suggest the most expensive tool or piece of equipment, but that’s not because they want to make money, they’re not on commission, no, they tell you to buy that thing because it’s the tool or piece of equipment that actually works. The extra $ is definitely worth it. I’ll break it down for you, do not skimp, it's a false saving - the $4.50 spray you “wisely” buy to save you a money won't work and you'll be back buying the $5.50 spray anyway…which actually means you lost $4.50 and gas money and time and effort and then also have to deal with a level of annoyance and then there’s the embarrassment of going back and admitting you should have taken the more expensive spray but you were being cheap and arrogant.
Let’s do the math on that shall we so we can be really clear? $25 an hour for your time (2 hours = $50) $5 for gas and $120 for an hour to process the anger/embarrassment/arrogance with your therapist (or perhaps you’ll just need a bottle of wine so that might come in around a cheapish $15). So, the whole experience of buying the cheaper bottle of spray and then realising you have to buy the one that actually works, costs somewhere between $74.50 to $179.50. You’ve got it, right? Just buy the one the store attendant suggests.
I’m back in the attic. I sometimes have a good “off” button to avoid thinking about consequences to actions, it could be called stupidity but I definitely have switched it off now and really just avoid thinking about what might happen when I spray, I don’t really like killing things, even things that are pissing me off and making me frightened. But, here goes, I spray, and then I watch in some horror as about 500 ants start going mental, they’re running about trying to escape their imminent death. Wah. They look both freaked out and kinda mad. I contemplate running, or crawling very fast over the rafters, but instead I go all in and blast them with spray…there seems no need for these dudes to suffer more than they have to. I want them to die fast because watching wee things struggling for life is horrible. And, well I'm also worried that my sympathy for them might kick in and I can’t let it cos I really want the mother fuckers to stop eating my house!.
I spray and get the hell out of the attic. The mayhem that has started in the attic is, by the time I get to the spare room, coming spewing out of the hole where I found the sawdust. Ants of all sizes are spilling down the walls and onto the floor. There must be 1000 of them, they’re everywhere down the walls and on the floor. I close the spare room door and go downstairs, there’s a few hundred in the living room running about in the corner and some on the porch. I walk away.
Relief and anxiety co-mingle. I've dealt a severe blow to this one colony but from all accounts carpenter ants are really hard to get rid of. One of the reasons is that those winged flying dudes I'd seen in the attic are actually not just dudes, some are dudettes, they fly about and mate and then the female lays batches of 20 or so eggs – they do this all the time, starting new nests. I’m thinking once you have carpenter ants you have ‘em for life, they reappear when least wanted, like cold sores, you can treat them when they break out but they’re always just there laying in wait, ants of course are slightly more destructive to the structure of one's home.
All those ants coming down the walls died all over the floor. I don’t own a vacuum cleaner so I sweep them up. It doesn’t feel good to have taken them down but it also feels great. The bi-polar nature of human existence.
I go and sit outside in the afternoon sunshine with a glass of wine and trim my nails. As I'm sitting there dropping little bits of my body onto the ground below me I see a trail of innocuous regular small ants crawling across the large stone at my feet, they're just going back and forth, occasionally banging into each other. I imagine them giving each other high-fives, or politely saying “good afternoon” or whatever ants do when they see their colleagues out and about on a sunny afternoon.
Bits of my nail land amongst some of them and one or two of the ants start attempting to pick them up. I watch one little ant manage to get hold of a piece that's about a ½ inch long, that’s approximately 10 times the size of its body. I know that little piece of nail is not heavy but then again neither is an ant, so it's probably hauling something that's maybe twice its weight? But it's also about 5 times its size. That ant holds that prize in the air, in its mouth, and walks with it for 15 minutes! It stumbles across small pebbles, avoiding dropping it or clobbering its mates with it and just keeps going. That'd be like me holding a 25 foot long, 200 pound stick in my mouth and walking with it for a mile.
I wonder what she is going to say to her mates when she gets it back to the nest?