And in case you haven't read H.G. Wells's subtly terrifying short story, that means it's really, really bad.
They seem so harmless, ants. We even praise them for their industriousness.Like beavers.
But would you invite a beaver into your backyard? Would you welcome aline of buck-toothed fur-hats-in-waiting marching through the back door to climb up the sides of the cupboards to eat left-over jam smudges?
I think not.
With ants, it's not like invitation is an option. They are bent on domination. Ants, simply, cannot be stopped.
You can try the sealing up of cracks, laying down borax or talcum powder, the vacuum-and-suffocate method, or stomping on them. You can try powdered chili barriers, coffee grounds, citrus peel, lavender oil, vinegar. They will find a way.
Chickens, of course, eat ants. But we all know how well that idea's going to go over if you live in Halifax.
On the advice of a professional gardener friend I marched myself to the store to buy Trounce, an insecticide that's allowed under HRM's pesticide ban. (The ants in my yard, see, are herding aphids, which are sucking the good right out of my grape vines and other plants.) I can't bring myself to use chemicals; I ended up marching myself right back home with the idea there must be some other fix.
A website I scrambled to for help told me I need to figure out what kind of ants they are to set on a solution.
What kind they are? They are black. They are tiny. They are ants.
Little Black Ant (the common name for Monomorium minimum) seems to suit best, but how should I know if they're a different breed? Thief Ants, Crazy Ants, Acrobat Ants or Odorous House Ants? Any of those tags suit the little bastards.
They are not, I'm confident, the red, stinging Pavement Ants infesting a Jubilee Road backyard and featured in a story in Saturday's Chronicle Herald. That homeowner is mowing her lawn in rubber boots and can't even send her dog out for a pee. I'd never heard of that before.
So many kinds of ants, and here I was, so ignorant of their presumably vast differences. I wondered briefly if I wasn't the colonizing force. Plunking my rhodos, lilacs, lupins and lilies into their homes, destroying a history of ant culture older than the human race. (Ants are believed to have been on earth for 168 million years.) Maybe, I reflected, I have no more right to be here than them.
Then one bit me the other day. So screw them.
When I later saw his second-cousin twice-removed roving around on the propane cooktop, I waited for the perfect moment and turned the flame to high. Is it worse, really, than the squashing I've been doing with my bare hands? Smacking them with my fist and watching the kids do the same? Our home, these days, is a chorus of nonchalant murderous chanting: "Ant." (Smack.) "Ant." (Smack.) "Mom, got another ant." (Smack.) "Good dear. Thank you." (Smack.)
In H.G. Wells's 1905 short story The Empire of the Ants (the B-movie adaptation---I use that term loosely---starring Joan Collins is an option for the Clean Nova Scotia Green Cult Classic People's Choice screening at the alFresco filmFesto this year) a gunboat captain is sent to the Amazon to help colonists caught in an onslaught of giant ants.
The captain, Gerilleau, and his engineer, Holroyd, underestimate the power of the giant ants on their trip to the heart of the invasion. Gerilleau with conquerous disregard, Holroyd with an escalating uneasiness that grows as they lurch deeper into the jungle and which foreshadows the story's ultimate end---"He began to perceive that man is indeed a rare animal, having but a precarious hold upon this land."
In my case, it's a precarious hold upon my own kitchen. They invaded the green bin last night, my ants. I came down to a wriggling line of raiders and squished them all. A hundred, I'd wager.
Now that I've been back upstairs forhalf an hour, they've probably already replenished their troops---doubled, possibly---and moved back into green-bin-conquest formation.
What's there to do? Stand guard at the back door all day?
I'm defeated. Utterly. And finding slim hope in the dismissive words of Captain Gerilleau: "What can a man do against ants? Dey come, dey go."
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