Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Vilseskogen
I hope you were never one of those kids who kicked an ant hill all to pieces whenever you saw one and had the protective footwear for such destruction. Where I grew up, on a high altitude plateau called Fort Lewis Mesa, we had lots of ant hills, red ants. I have a childhood memory of playing under a cedar tree in our farm yard when I was about 4 or 5 when I suddenly became aware that I was playing near a red ant colony. Panicking, I felt like the ants were crawling all over me. Trying to get away from them, I got myself backed against the trunk of the tree where I stood calling and calling to my mom who was far away in the kitchen of our farmhouse and couldn’t hear me. I was tethered to that tree in fear, unable to break away and I can see the black patent leather Mary Janes I wore in pictures from that age, balancing on an exposed root from the tree as I fixated on inspecting my feet for the invading army, trying to gain a slight bit of higher ground. Finally, I somehow got the courage to make a run for it. I hysterically burst in on my mom, who was working peacefully in the kitchen, thinking I would receive commendation and comfort. But as much as I tried to impress on her the terrible danger I had just escaped and the immense amount of courage it had required, I could tell that she didn’t really think it had been a big deal and that I had overreacted to a common situation that I could have easily avoided.
I don’t think I hated ants after that, but I did continue to regard them as my nemesis throughout childhood and yes, regretfully, I do remember sometimes intentionally stomping on an ant hill or two in the following years, but only when I was in a position of clear advantage.
Have you watched what happens after you kick the stuffings out of an ant hill? The ants scatter around, confused and defensive, looking like they’re going in circles. Remarkably quickly, however, they reorganize, start working together again, and rebuild their home within about a day. Tenacious critters.
We got our kids all back in school this week and the whole week, I couldn’t escape the image of being part of an ant colony. Some bullies whacked our hill, no question about it. They got us good and we were dazed and hurt. But then we let our instincts and discipline reign, rather than our fear and anger. We sorted through our remains, retrenched our nest, sharing spaces and creating new ones where needed. And this week, we were back at our excellent work. It felt so good to do what we are meant to do.
Yesterday, with a choked voice, the director thanked the staff with the simple statement, “You saved the school,” and it is so true. If we had given in to our disorientation, our students’ families would have migrated to other schools and our school would have become irrelevant or nonexistent. Instead, we opened with over 90% of our previous enrollment and have a waiting list of new students ready to join us. Our work will continue to be interesting and full of surprises, I’m sure, and for those reasons, and others, I wouldn’t choose to be in any other colony, anywhere.