Sugar Ant Wars*

Sugar Ant Wars*

I do not live alone ….   Each morning I wake to see whether my kitchen was as clean as I thought it was when I went to bed.  A crumb, a drop of milk, a grain of rice, and I am greeted by throngs of very busy and very very tiny ants scampering around the trespasser. I keep hoping that the Tibetan Buddhist teaching about insects and animals being our ancestors, and so they therefore should be protected, lest we be doomed to multiple life times of living on the animal or insect plane, does not apply to sugar ants.  If it does, I am now already destined to living several millennia as an animal or insect.  Even then, I probably won’t have come close to paying off my cumulative karmic debt for exterminating the interlopers whenever, and wherever, I found them.  My sponge is constantly covered with tiny corpses, ready to be washed them down the drain with a brief, and sometimes heartfelt, apology.

According to the internet, the insect that is actually a “sugar ant” is only found in Australia. It informs me that they are probably really “pavement” or “Pharoah” ants.   Who would have imagined that an insect so tiny would be impersonating another?   But the internet also acknowledges that other species are often referred to as sugar ants, so apparently my errant usage of the name is common, if not  accurate.

Whatever they actually are, their persistence, their readiness, and their organizational skills are remarkable.  I am sure that if our military were even half as organized as they are, we would have won every conflict in which we have entered within days.   It only takes them 10-20 minutes to find whatever I have missed in what is now the cleanest kitchen I have ever had.  If I sit down to dinner without washing whatever I have used to cook it, when I return to the kitchen after eating, they are already gleefully swarming across whatever tidbit was left behind on my cooking utensils.

Tonight, they claimed their highest achievement award thus far:  I had left a pot with curry in it on the gas burner, with the serving spoon still in it.  When I came back after eating, there was a line of ants dancing across the table and up the curtain behind the stove in order to climb onto the handle of the spoon and make their way towards the delicacies I had left behind.  Luckily for me, they were so entranced by what they found on the handle of the spoon that they never made it into the curry itself!

There are always one or two out strolling about, searching for my mistakes presumably.  I assume that these are the “scouts”, or advance guards, for their military operations.  How they get word to their reserve troops in minutes is beyond me.  And where are they when they are not swarming my sink or table, I wonder?  Lined up inside the walls, ready to charge at a moment’s notice, as soon as they hear the call, however it is done?   Do they all sit and watch my every move from some hidden crack or corner that I have not seen?    Truly, even as I tempt my karmic fate and sweep my sponge across their masses, often muttering to them in annoyance, I also experience just a wee bit of admiration for their intrepidness and persistence.

Sugar ant colonies demand my attention, and my respect.  I must stay alert.  I must pay attention.  They ask that I always be present, aware of my actions in the kitchen.  And when I forget, they enthusiastically remind me of my failings.  And so it is, in recognition of their constancy and their commitment to my spiritual growth, that I try to practice compassion as I knock them off their microscopic feet and escort them to my sink.

*The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Rwandan government.